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CNN Today

Bush Campaign Hoping to Capitalize on Nader's Candidacy in Washington State

Aired October 30, 2000 - 2:13 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: CNN is taking a look at the battleground states in the week and a day left in this campaign. Washington state has gone Democratic in the last three presidential elections, but don't let that fool you. The state is home to plenty of free spirits, and CNN's Chris Black joins us from Seattle -- Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, you're right about that. I'm standing here on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, and even though Washington state has voted Democratic the last three times, this time it is a very competitive state. The problem is Al Gore has to win this state if he's going to win the presidency. Washington state is very much part of the Democratic base and one of those states he needs to get to the magic 270 in the electoral college.

The Democrats are calling in the heavy hitters, trying to rally the troops in the final week before the election. Last week, Bill Bradley, the former senator from New Jersey and Al Gore's primary rival, came to Seattle urging students to vote for the man who beat him in the primaries.

And movie stars have been showing up: Martin Sheen, the star of NBC's "West Wing," was here on the vice president's behalf, and Rob Reiner, the actor and movie director.

Part of the reason for Al Gore's problems here is Ralph Nader. Nader's candidacy has energized many of the activists, progressive activists, particularly here in Seattle. Many of these activists were very involved in the WTO demonstrations just a year ago, and his candidacy has given them a new lease on life and threatens to take enough votes away from Gore to give George Bush the state.

Here with me today to explain a little bit more about how this state has become so competitive is Don Benton, who's chairman of the Washington state Republican Party, and he's also a state senator, who represents a district on the Oregon border.

And in my experience as a political reporter, state legislators always know more than anyone else about what's going on.

Don, tell us why Washington this time has become so competitive.

DON BENTON, CHAIRMAN, WASHINGTON REPUBLICAN PARTY: First and foremost, Chris, I think it's because George Bush is a man that people have come to trust. I think that's a big part of it. When he says something, they can believe him.

But in Washington, there's a lot of independent voters, and as you well know from the research you've done, Washington has been under attack from the federal government for the last several years. Private property rights are under attack here.

And I think the independents and even Democrats now are beginning to see that the federal government is really intruding too much into Washington state, trying to tell us how to do our business.

Now, Washingtonians are a pretty independent bunch. They don't like the long arm of he federal government coming in, attacking Microsoft, one of our most proudest success stories here in Washington state, attacking the dams on the Snake River, which provides us with our low electric power costs here.

Those are two big issues that George Bush has been out front on in terms of protecting the dams, and you know, standing up for the American dream, Microsoft and the innovation and the ability to work hard and succeed. And Al Gore's been silent on those issues. He's refused to come out and talk about those things.

And I think that's one of the reasons that independents and even Democrats are starting to go with Bush now, because they see that he's in touch with the things that are important to the folks here in Washington.

BLACK: There's very much an east-west polarity in this state, though. Tell me a little bit more about the Republican base in the eastern part of the state.

BENTON: Well, in eastern Washington, it's largely agricultural- based. Farmers, a lot of farmers, they grow a lot of wheat, a lot of apples. Of course, you've heard of Washington apples. These folks have been affected greatly by some of the issues I just talked about: the attack on private property rights, the threat to take out the Snake River dams, which, you know, a lot of people don't realize, but all of that produce that's produced in eastern Washington comes down those rivers on barges.

And so those are important issues to eastern Washington, and eastern Washington traditionally has been more Republican.

BLACK: OK. And finally, one quick last question about the significance of the Nader candidacy.

BENTON: Well, I think it's important to have Ralph Nader doing so well here, because what happens is that folks that would have tended to vote for Al Gore, who may not want to vote for George Bush, are now looking to someone else that maybe they can support, that understands, again, the threat of the long arm of the federal government coming into Washington state.

BLACK: Thank you very much, Don Benton, chairman of the Washington state Republican Party. And tomorrow, George W. Bush will be back here in Seattle, making one final appeal to Washington state voters.

Chris Black, CNN, reporting live from Seattle, Washington.

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