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Special Event

Countdown to Election 2000: 6 Days to Go

Aired November 1, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN Election 2000 special presentation.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The candidates defy election history, and head into states once considered hostile territory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I need your help on Tuesday. Let's win this election. Let's win Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to carry Minnesota. You mark my words.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tonight, up-to-the-minute polls and expert analysis from the campaign trail to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Also, revving the engine on the unofficial party machines. Charlton Heston on NRA efforts to galvanize gun owners for Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLTON HESTON, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: You take it from my cold dead hands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And abortion rights leader Kate Michelman on why motivating the Democratic base could make the difference for Gore.

And a home to presidents, a witness to history: the White House reaches a landmark anniversary, all straight ahead on CNN, your election headquarters.

ANNOUNCER: Countdown to Election 2000: six days to go. From Washington, here's CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Good evening. George W. Bush and Al Gore today traveled to states once thought to be out of reach politically for both men. They spent crucial hours in places neither was expected to be competitive. But as this election has evolved into one of the closest in years, a lot of the old rules of politics are falling by the wayside.

Our correspondents, as always, were with the candidates every step of the way. George Bush left Seattle this morning and held rallies in the traditionally Democratic areas of Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota. And at this hour he is headed to Des Moines, Iowa. A little while ago, I caught up with our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Candy, it's been a long time since a Republican presidential candidate carried Minnesota. I believe 1972, George McGovern was the Democratic candidate that time. Why is Minnesota in play this late date in the campaign?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of reasons. First of all, this is eclectic state as far as the electorate goes. It has a liberal Democrat in the Senate. It has a conservative Republican in the Senate. Of course it has Jesse Ventura as governor.

Second of all, the Nader factor is fairly big here. He polled as high as 8 points at one time last summer. He's down considerably, but this is at state that tends to be a bit of a rogue, that doesn't really fall neatly to a lot of at patterns and the Bush campaign says that their polls show they're up about 3 points here. They think they've got a real shot.

BLITZER: And George W. Bush is speaking right behind you. Earlier today he once again went on the offensive against Al Gore. I want you to listen to what he said about Al Gore and big government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We've had some interesting moments during the campaign. Some humorous moments. I think perhaps one of the most humorous came in one debates when he looked at the camera and said, I'm against big government. I could barely contain myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was in Minneapolis. You're now in Duluth. I take it he's delivering a similar theme tonight?

CROWLEY: Yes, the big government theme is one that the Bush strategists believe plays well, obviously among Republicans, but also among swing voters. They believe that that whole era of big government really has resonance within the swing voters, within conservative Democrats.

So Bush been hitting that theme very hard as he's campaigning in these final days because it works to both audiences he wants to appeal to. That is the base that he want to rev up and get out there knocking on doors and to the swing voters who haven't made up their minds.

BLITZER: And very quickly, getting back to the Ralph Nader factor. In Jesse Ventura's home state, are the Bush people really thinking that that Nader factor could help them get over the top in Minnesota?

CROWLEY: They think the Nader factor keeps them competitive. I don't think that you'll get them to say publicly anywhere the Ralph Nader will hand them the victory. They believe that what we've been talking about,the big government and they also believe the Social Security plan that Bush has out there, as well as his tax cuts have resonance here in Wisconsin as they have in other surprising states along the way Iowa, West Virginia, Wisconsin to name a couple more. So they believe it is a matter of message, but certainly Ralph Nader here and his popularity it doesn't hurt.

BLITZER: All right, Candy Crowley competing with George W. Bush for applause over there in Duluth. We'll be back with you tomorrow on the campaign trail.

CROWLEY: OK, thanks, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The vice president, meantime, traveled coast to coast overnight so he could hit the ground running in Florida. He arrived before dawn in Orlando, then headed to rallies in Kissimmee and Tampa. This evening, he's headed to Pennsylvania for a rally later tonight in Scranton.

Joining me now from Tampa is CNN senior White House correspondent, John King. John, before we get talking a little bit about Florida, I want you to listen to what the vice president said earlier today about his prospects of winning that state. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I'm getting a message from you and let me interpret it. What I am hearing from you in your numbers and with your enthusiasm is very simple and very clear. On Tuesday, we're going to win Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: John, this state was not supposed to be competitive given the fact that Governor Bush's brother is Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida. What's going on?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democrats would remind you Bill Clinton did carry this state in 1996. Democrats also upbeat because of the prospects of their Senate candidate here, Bill Nelson. They also think this is the state where Gore can use his message. We was talking about the environment here in Tampa, promising no offshore drilling if he's elected.

Social Security and courting the elderly voters, and they believe if they can get African-American turn-out in this state up to 15 percent or a little higher -- that's there target in other key battlegrounds as well -- that they can win this state. Even some Republicans now privately saying a state, as you mentioned, months ago everyone thought would be in the Bush column, some Republicans privately saying they expect the vice president to win here and its 25 very big electoral votes.

BLITZER: The Democratic Party now, John, is releasing a new ad speaking about that entire environmental issue in Florida. Let's run a snippet of that new ad that's about to be released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DNC AD)

NARRATOR: Florida's coastline, part of our way of life. If Bush and Cheney are elected, the two former oil executives want to open up environmentally sensitive areas to oil drilling.

Bush-Cheney, drill in Alaska's pristine arctic wilderness, make Florida's coast vulnerable to big oil and oil spills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Can we assume, John, that the vice president thinks the seniors are with them. That's why he's stressing issue that maybe some of those swing voters, those undecided votes -- voters in the central part of the state may prefer, namely the environment.

KING: No secret to what the Gore campaign is doing here. Their own polling shows many independent voters don't like the vice president personally. They think Governor Bush is the more appealing candidate on that front. So the vice president trying to change the focus, make this about specific issues. Again, the environment a big issue here in Florida.

In other states he cast this more as saying that Governor Bush is the candidate of the special interests: the drug companies, the oil companies, the insurance companies. So the vice president trying to make this about issues.,acknowledging publicly as he campaigns that if it is about personality he is likely to lose. So instead he's trying be very specific about the issues. It's a tactic Bill Clinton tried in both 1992 and 1996 when people were trying to make his character the issue.

BLITZER: All Right, John King reporting from Florida. Thanks for joining us.

And joining us now is our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, as he has been every night for these COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000 specials. Let's take a look at the new numbers just on our CNN/"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll: 48 percent for George W. Bush; 43 percent for Al Gore; 3 for Nader; 1 for Buchanan. Let's take a look at the poll of polls, comparing that to some of the other polls.

Look at this. "The Washington Post" similar, four point difference, ABC News, four point difference in favor of Bush. The Pugh Center poll, four points. The MSNBC/Reuters/Zogby, three points. All very consistent.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And look at the trend. On Monday night, we reported the average of the poll of polls was a Bush lead of two points. Last night, the Bush lead averaged three points. Tonight, in that poll of polls you just reported, four points. I smell a trend.

BLITZER: A trend in favor of George W. Bush. You know, but some of the big states seem to have some lopsided numbers as far as the general election is concerned.

SCHNEIDER: Well, look at Texas. I mean, it's got 32 electoral votes and it's going overwhelmingly for Bush. I mean, when is the last time a presidential candidate failed to carry his own state? We'll give you the answer in a minute.

But what happens if we take all the Texans out of our national poll, just make Texas disappear. A lot of Democrats would like to do that. What does race look like in the rest of the country? It goes from a five point lead for Bush as we just reported to just a two- point lead for George Bush.

In other words, outside of Texas, the race is very close. But there's reason for that and that's New York. Gore is running almost 25 points ahead of Bush in New York, which -- and New York has 33 electoral votes. Let's put Texas back in the union and take New York out. What happens? Bush's lead then grows to seven points.

OK, now what happens if we take both Texas and New York out of the mix. Answer: We're back where we started, a five point lead for George W. Bush. So does Texas distort the national vote? It does, and so does New York. They just cancel each other out. And the answer is the last president who did not carry own state was...

BLITZER: George McGovern, 1972.

SCHNEIDER: Regis will send you a check for a million dollars.

BLITZER: I'm waiting for that check. Bill Schneider, we'll see you back here tomorrow. Thanks for joining us.

And ahead here on our special countdown to Election 2000, an update on some of the day's other top stories including the latest on the investigation of the Singapore Airlines crash in Taiwan.

We'll also talk with NRA president Charlton Heston and learn how his group is trying to help George W. Bush win the White House. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Our countdown to election 2000 will continue in just a moment, but first, a look at some of the day's other top stories.

More violence in the West Bank and Gaza today threatened to overshadow the latest efforts at trying to revive the peace process in the region. Three Israeli soldiers and six Palestinians were killed in several confrontations. In Washington, Israel's acting foreign minister emerged from a meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and described the current conflict as, in his words -- quote -- "a mini-war."

Crews aboard the transport ship Blue Marlin are preparing to carry the USS Cole back to America. CNN has learned the plastic explosive C-4 was the substance used in the attack against the Cole. Sources say the finding allows investigators to focus on terrorist groups known to have access to that military-style explosive. The cost of repairing the ship could reach $170 million.

Investigators have made preliminary readings of the data and voice recorders belonging to the Singapore Airlines flight that crashed yesterday in Taiwan. The plane crashed on a takeoff during a heavy rain storm, killing 80 people and injuring at least 54. A makeshift morgue was set up inside an airport terminal, where relatives arrived to identify the crash victims.

And now back to our "COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000." There's been a lot of talk this campaign season about the undecided voters. But also important come election day are the committed activists on both sides, the people and groups who view the election through the lens of a few key issues, and then pour money and political muscle into getting their chosen candidates elected.

One of those activist groups is the National Rifle Association, led By Charlton Heston. Earlier, I spoke with him in Nashville, where he's campaigning to help George Bush in the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Heston, thank you so much for joining us once again on our "COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000." I know you're joining us from Nashville.

I want to clarify one remark that you made earlier in October in Michigan. "The Grand Rapids Press" reported this, and it's caused some concern, especially among your critics. When you were speaking of Al Gore, you said, at least according to the paper, you were quoted as saying: "'In any other time or place, you'd be looking for a lynching mob,' Heston added, drawing enthusiastic shouts from the audience of 'Let's do it' and 'I've got a rope.'"

The question is what was the reference to a lynching mob and Al Gore?

HESTON: It was not meant to combine the two, I promise you.

BLITZER: Was it just sort of a slip of the tongue or anything like that?

HESTON: Well, it was the enthusiasm, almost the frantic, almost frenzy that you get from some of these crowds. We've had crowds of 5,000 and 6,000, and it's -- I've never seen anything like it. BLITZER: The ad, the full-page ad that the NRA has been running -- and I want to show it on our screen; our audience will see it. It says: "Al Gore wants to ban guns in America." Very stark, bold letters.

The argument, of course, that the Gore campaign is making, that is simply not true, he does not want to ban guns in America.

HESTON: Mr. Blitzer, that is not true. For eight years, the -- what? -- 70 -- 30,000 -- 30 million gun owners in America have been looking for a place at the table. They have been unable to get any hearing anywhere. Last spring, the president tried to launch a campaign to really put the gun owners out, and the NRA, too, of course. It fell flat. We haven't heard a word from the White House on this.

And heretofore, the vice president has been against guns. Now, he's come out and said that he is really actually for gun owners. That is not true.

With due respect, if he had the guts of a guppy, he would say, look, this is the way I feel, this is the kind of administration I'm going to run, and the gun owners just have to accept that.

BLITZER: I want...

HESTON: But he is certainly not in favor of gun owners.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what he said earlier this week in Green Bay, Wisconsin on his position, as he states it, on guns in America. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I want you to know, Joe Lieberman and I are in favor of common-sense gun safety measures.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

There is not a single thing in our agenda that affects a single hunter or sportsman, and anybody who tells you otherwise is engaged in a smear campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That doesn't sound like he wants to ban guns in America. He says he wants gun safety measures. He wants sportsmen, hunters to have access, of course, to guns. But he just takes a position, obviously, that's different than yours.

HESTON: Well, this is -- again, I'm not inclined to speak disrespectfully of the vice president of the United States, but we are familiar with his position on firearms, and he is not a friend of the Second Amendment, he is not a friend of gun owners. He is certainly not a friend of the NRA. All right, we can deal with that. But to pretend otherwise I think is, with respect, inappropriate. He shouldn't do it.

BLITZER: I know that you're spending a major effort trying to get union members in Michigan and other states who are gun owners, hunters and sportsmen, you're trying to get them to come out. But a lot of them say they have a, sort of a conflict because their unions have endorsed Al Gore. And when it comes to their paycheck and their union responsibilities, there seems to be a difference then when it comes to the Second Amendment, which, of course, is the right to bear arms.

HESTON: Mr. Blitzer, the people that are coming to our rallies -- as I said, they're in thousands, largely more people than are attending in the same city the vice president's gatherings. And they -- the union bosses, of course, have a good reason to want Mr. Gore to win. The union members, the gun owners, the hunters want to have the right to go hunting and bow hunting and everything. And that's -- that's simply -- the vice president is playing loosely with the truth.

BLITZER: If defeating Vice President Al Gore is priority No. 1, some of your supporters have suggested defeating Mrs. Clinton in her bid for the Senate from New York state is priority No. 2. Is that fair?

HESTON: You could say there's a good deal of opposition to the first lady. I've only met her once.

BLITZER: And so that not necessarily priority No. 2?

HESTON: For the NRA?

BLITZER: Yes.

HESTON: It's, I think, for the entire Republican Party, it's of course an important issue to hold a seat in the Senate.

BLITZER: Charlton Heston, always good to have you on CNN. Thanks for joining us.

HESTON: I look forward to the next time, Mr. Blitzer. Thank you.

BLITZER: I'm sure it will be in the not-too-distant future. Thank you for joining us.

HESTON: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Political interest groups fall along both sides of the political divide. Up next, abortion rights leader Kate Michelman and her organization's efforts to get out the vote for Al Gore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: While the NRA works to put George W. Bush in the White House, Kate Michelman is doing all she can to elect Al Gore. Michelman is the president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, or NARAL, and just days ago, her group announced plans to increase its TV ad spending in several battleground states, warning potentially Nader voters could tilt the election in favor of George W. Bush.

Kate Michelman joins me now to talk about her organization's political efforts, and thanks for joining us.

KATE MICHELMAN, PRESIDENT, NARAL: You're welcome.

BLITZER: I want to play a snippet of an ad that NARAL is now running in several states. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NARAL AD)

NARRATOR: If you're thinking of voting for Ralph Nader, please consider: This year, a 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision narrowly protected Roe versus Wade. Voting for Ralph Nader helps elect George W. Bush. Before voting Nader, consider the risks. It's your choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Just as Al Gore says the NRA is exaggerating, using scare tactics against him, the bush People saying that you're exaggerating, using scare tactics on this abortion rights issue against George W. Bush.

MICHELMAN: Well, Wolf, the next presidential election could result in the repeal of Roe versus Wade and an end to legal abortion. That is not scare tactics. That's reality.

BLITZER: But that's what they said during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and it didn't happen.

MICHELMAN: Well, first of all, we are now faced right now with a candidate in George Bush who is anti-choice, who believes that Roe versus Wade was wrongly decided, and supports the overrule of Roe. If George Bush is elected and has the chance, as most predict, to appoint two, three --- perhaps even more Supreme Court justices who don't believe that the Constitution protects a woman's right to choose, we will lose Roe versus Wade and we will lose our right to choose.

So it's not scare tactics. This is a right...

BLITZER: But Bush says he's not going to use any litmus test, and specifically, when the issue of the RU-486 came along, the so- called "abortion pill," he says he's not going to try to overturn that decision by the Food & Drug Administration.

MICHELMAN: Well, on the first issue of litmus test, he has said very clearly that he would appoint strict constructionists. Everyone knows that strict constructionism our codewords for overrule Roe versus Wade. And so -- and his models are Scalia and Thomas, the strongest opponents of a woman's right to choose on the court.

As far as RU-486, in the first debate, or second debate -- I can't remember which -- he did sort of try to skirt the issue. But later, when told about the bill that was introduced in Congress following the FDA's approval of RU-486, which would have basically reversed the FDA, he said he would sign it.

BLITZER: Do you have a problem with Al Gore when he says he would favor legislation banning the so-called late-term abortion procedure known as "partial birth abortion" if there was a provision in there protecting the life or health of the mother. Would that -- what that be OK with you?

MICHELMAN: Roe versus Wade allows states today to ban post- viability abortions except those laws must allow for the exception to protect a woman's health or her life. So Al Gore's position is absolutely consistent with Roe versus Wade. He is pro-choice. He will protect choice.

BLITZER: And consistent with NARAL?

MICHELMAN: And consistent with NARAL, and George W. Bush is a serious threat to a woman's right to choose.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have to leave it right there. Kate Michelman, thanks for joining us.

MICHELMAN: Thanks. You're welcome.

BLITZER: Way on top of -- overlooking Washington, D.C.

MICHELMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you, and when we return, a preview of CNN's election programming later tonight. Also, 200 years of history for the well-kept home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: CNN's special coverage of election 2000 continues. Coming up next, Jeff Greenfield's "UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM." And tonight at 10:00 Eastern, catch "THE SPIN ROOM."

Joining us now with a preview, hosts Bill Press and Tucker Carlson. What's up, guys?

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, CNN "THE SPIN ROOM": Wolf, the presidential candidates continue to carp about the other guy's qualifications. So tonight, we're going to whip out their resumes.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST, CNN "THE SPIN ROOM": And we invite everybody to sound off in "THE SPIN ROOM": by phone at 1-800-310-4CNN or online chat at cnn.com or e-mail us -- no resumes, please -- to spin@cnn.com.

CARLSON: See you at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, we'll be watching. Before we go, the first president of the new century will be elected at a historic time for the building right behind me: The White House officially opened 200 years ago today when President John Adams moved in on November 1st, 1800. Shortly after settling in, he lost his race for re-election.

The White House now has the -- the White House then was the largest house in the country until after the Civil War.

Join us again tomorrow night for "COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000." We'll have the very latest from the campaign trail and a special appearance by "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno.

That's all we have time for tonight. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Jeff Greenfield's "UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM" begins right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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