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Countdown to Election 2000: Five Days to GoAired November 2, 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 political ground war grinds toward election day as the candidates turn their attention to states considered tossups.
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GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let it be known in the great state of Missouri I'm here asking for the vote, I want your vote.
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AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I need your help! I need your vote! I need Chicago! I need Illinois!
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BLITZER: Tonight, the key strategies, the new polls, and our John King and Candy Crowley with the latest from the campaign trail. And Bill Schneider on the trends that are shaping the campaign's final days.
Also, "The Tonight Show's" Jay Leno on the role of political humor and the increased emphasis on personality.
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JAY LENO, HOST, NBC "THE TONIGHT SHOW": We're not questioning anybody's patriotism here. Oh, sure, you're calling them pinheads and idiots, but that's OK.
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BLITZER: And election day for the nation's young people: millions of students cast their votes for president. We'll have the final results, all straight ahead on CNN, your election headquarters.
ANNOUNCER: Countdown to election 2000, five days to go. From Washington, here's CNN's Wolf Blitzer. BLITZER: Good evening. The daily multistate caravans of George W. Bush and Al Gore toured the nation's heartland today, including some of the nation's prime political real estate, rich in electoral votes. But as this long day in this long campaign came to a close, the race took a surprise turn just within the past hour, with a new development affecting Republican George W. Bush, which could have potentially adverse effects on his campaign.
For the latest, we go to CNN senior White House correspondent John King, who's just outside of Chicago.
John, tell us what's going on.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Bush campaign acknowledging tonight that when the governor was 30 years old back on Labor Day weekend in 1976 he was pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol in the state of Maine, about a mile from the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. The Bush campaign saying the governor, then 30 years old at the time, paid $150 fine and temporarily had his right to drive suspended in the state of Maine. Now, about 10 years later we know, right after his 40th birthday, Governor Bush said that he quit drinking altogether. This revelation coming four days before the presidential election.
Karen Hughes, Governor Bush's top spokeswoman, saying the governor has never disclosed this because it is an incident he's not proud of, and also we note consistently throughout this campaign Governor Bush has said that he had a drinking problem when he was younger but that he was going to detail all of the mistakes he had made prior to his getting into elected office.
Now, the Bush campaign also raising questions about the timing of all this, saying they believe this had been done in a deliberate effort to smear the governor and damage his chances in the presidential race, coming out so close to the election.
We've touched base this evening with officials at the Democratic National Committee and the Gore campaign. Both say they first learned about this through news reports today. They have no comment on the substance of this. Obviously, with the election just a few days away, this will raise some questions.
And indeed, I spoke to a senior Republican strategist, working closely with the Bush campaign -- not on the campaign payroll, but working closely with him in just the past hour -- and he used the word, quote, "stupid" to say he could not understand why Governor Bush would not have put something like this out on the public record quite some time ago, before he started to run for president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, John, stand by. I want to bring Candy Crowley into this conversation. Candy is traveling, covering George W. Bush. She's on the telephone right now, heading toward Governor Bush's next stop.
Candy, what are you hearing from Bush staffers on this latest revelation?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're obviously pointing out everything John just said, and they are, you know, saying, look, the governor has been quite open about his drinking problems, has told people again that he quit drinking the day after his 40th birthday, that he hasn't had a drop to drink for 14 years.
As to whether they think this will hurt him, obviously, at this point they're saying no, they don't. They believe that the American people have a way of weighing things within their context, that this was 24 years ago. But as John said, they do believe that the timing of this is a little bit suspect.
BLITZER: Well, about the timing, Candy, how did this information initially get released? Is there any attribution, any source for this disclosure?
CROWLEY: No, when we first heard rumblings of it, it was the Bush campaign that acknowledged it. Now, how it got out there in the first place I'm sure we'll be discussing for the next several days.
BLITZER: John King, is there any indication, any finger- pointing, anything that you've heard so far pointing to Democrats or to the Al Gore campaign as the source for this potentially damaging information?
KING: Well, both the national Democratic Party and the Gore campaign vehemently deny this. I touched base when we were just getting word of this with several Democratic sources, asking if they had any information about it, and they said they did not.
Now, certainly, there will be finger-pointing back and forth, as is often the case in such campaigns. Recall back to 1992 when Bill Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas, was dealing with the draft controversy, whether he had taken steps to evade the draft. He believed all along Republican opponents in his home state were leaking information about him and he vehemently argued that they were. But we have no evidence, absolutely none, at CNN that the Democrats were behind this.
But certainly, the Bush campaign believes that some opponent of the governor is behind this leak tonight. And what we do understand, that it was first circulated within the state of Maine and then spread nationally. Very easy for that to happen in this competitive media environment.
BLITZER: Given the fact that the arrest was in Kennebunkport, which, of course, is in Maine.
Candy, as you look at the Bush campaign, you've covered this campaign now for months and months and months. The criticism that even Republicans are going to make is that this should have been disclosed a long time ago. The best part of this kind of strategy is to get the worst information out yourself so it doesn't come back to haunt you at a late stage, which is the case right now.
Any explanation why they perhaps decided to hold this kind of information?
CROWLEY: Well, there's been an explanation all along from the governor himself. Early on, when he alluded to mistakes and being irresponsible during a period in his life, when you said, why don't, you know, get them out there, why don't you talk about it, he said because it is not the kind of role model that you want out there for your kids or your own kids or anyone else's kids.
He has long believed and said many times that he is not one of those that thinks you ought to say to your kids, here's what I did wrong and now don't do them. He has always felt that by recognizing that he had some things in his youth he wasn't proud of, that that should be all there is, that he needs to say about it as someone who's out there in the public eye.
And he has further pointed out that these mistakes were made before he came into public life.
BLITZER: I want to bring our senior political analyst Bill Schneider into this discussion. Bill, give us some perspective on how campaigns deal with this kind of disclosure within only five days of an election. Is there any historic precedent that springs to your mind?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, charges often come up in the last minute, and they're usually read, when they come up like this at this time, they're usually read as political. The campaign tries to say that it was brought up by their political enemies and make that an issues. That doesn't always work.
I don't think this charge itself has a serious impact, because it was a long time ago. No one apparently was hurt or injured, and there was no indication of preferential treatment because of Mr. Bush's family.
However, it does open the way, as John King said, for the press to start asking questions about what else is there on the Bush record. It is strange that the Bush campaign -- somebody obviously knew about this, it was on the record -- why didn't they reveal it months ago when the damage could have been contained. Just put it out there, because it just opens the door for the press to make this the theme of the next couple of days coverage. And that is a major diversion they can't afford.
BLITZER: John King, any hints, any indications -- and we know this has only been within the past hour that we've learned about this arrest 24 years ago -- any indication how the Gore campaign is going to deal with this issue?
KING: Well, Wolf, they said they would have absolutely no comment. That was their immediate response anyway. Certainly, if reporters get close enough to the vice president, he would be asked about this. Both candidates, Governor Bush and Vice President Gore, have tried to keep a bit of a distance from the reporters in the final days, because campaigns do not want to make mistakes in the final days. But certainly, the vice president is likely to be asked about this, but privately, what Gore campaign officials would tell you is that they don't want to comment on this. They insist they had nothing to do with it.
Now, behind the scenes they're certainly gleeful that we're talking about this tonight. It's a very competitive race, and they believe this is something that certainly is not helpful to the governor.
It also comes at a time, remember, when the message from the Gore campaign is that is Governor Bush ready to lead. They are asking that question in their television advertising. They are asking that question in their criticism of the governor. Just earlier today, several Democratic Vietnam veterans raised questions about Governor Bush's service in the National Guard, and had he completed his service, should he release his records.
So it comes at a time when they are trying to the focus on Bush's qualifications to be president.
Will a drunk-driving arrest when he was 30-years-old affect how people think about that? Hard for us to say. But certainly, the Gore campaign will stick to the issues, but they will not at all be disappointed with any press discussion about this.
BLITZER: And on that point, Candy Crowley -- you're covering the Bush campaign -- damage control at this late stage in the campaign. It's something, of course, high on the minds of Bush campaign officials right now.
Tell us where Governor Bush is right now, what his next stop on this -- this campaign is?
CROWLEY: Governor Bush is headed for Milwaukee. He left Glen Ellyn, Illinois as this story was beginning to break. They have a big rally planned up there for later tonight.
My guess is we have not seen nor has the Gore campaign seen their candidate in a press conference sort of situation. So in terms of getting him out there, my guess is that they will want him staying on message and try to sort of stiff arm this story and see if they can't contain it within, you know, a day or two.
Clearly, timing is critical here, and they've got to try to get rid of it, if only because if that's all anybody's talking about, it's hard to get the message out in what's a very close race.
BLITZER: And within the hour, we do anticipate that Governor Bush will be addressing -- will be making that speech in Wisconsin and CNN is planning on live coverage of Governor Bush's address within the hour.
Bill Schneider, button this up for us and give us your bottom line on (a) what Governor Bush has to do right now in order to deal with this potentially damaging information? SCHNEIDER: I don't think you can brush it off and say this is irrelevant to the campaign. A drunken driving arrest is not a youthful indiscretion, especially when he's 30 years old. It is a threat to public safety, and he's got to show that he takes this kind of charge seriously.
The problem for the campaign is the press is going to say, you know, he won't talk about anything he did more than 14 years ago. But now we discover there's an arrest on a serious charge, even if it was a misdemeanor handled responsibly. Is there anything else there? The press is going to pursue those questions and try to divert the campaign, not out of political motive, but simply because they need to know, the voters need to know in the last few days: Is there anything else they should know about?
BLITZER: And just to recap, we have now confirmed -- Bush campaign officials confirming that indeed Governor George W. Bush was arrested some 24 years ago in Kennebunkport, Maine for driving under the influence and he was given a misdemeanor for that charge. We will have much more on this developing story. Right now, though, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, more on this development.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000. We're following a developing story, right now. Twenty-four years ago, Governor George W. Bush, then a private citizen, was arrested for driving under the influence in Kennebunkport, Maine where his family has a summer home.
Joining us once again is our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
Bill, this comes at a time when all of the national tracking polls shows that Governor Bush is about three or four points ahead of Al Gore. Obviously, it's much too early to see if this is going to have any impact whatsoever on the polls, but it doesn't necessarily come at a time where he has much of cushion in the polls, does it?
SCHNEIDER: He has no cushion, really because that's a very modest lead. It's been stable ever since the last debate a couple weeks ago, about two-and-a-half weeks ago, Bush has been in the lead. It's been a steady lead. Gore hasn't really been able to pull ahead. But just a couple of points changed and this race really becomes very much too close to call. It really is right now.
BLITZER: And just to recap, we are told from the communications director from the Bush campaign, Karen Hughes, that Governor Bush at the time was 30-year-old. He was still single when he was arrested for driving under the influence. He paid a $150 fine. His driving privileges in Maine, in the state Maine, were suspended for, quote, "a period of time. It was a misdemeanor.
Karen Hughes -- another aide to the governor saying, quote, "This happened a long time ago and all along the governor been open about his drinking problem in the past. We think the American people judge these events and absorb them in their context."
I want to bring Mary Matalin into this conversation. Mary Matalin is, of course, co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE," long-time Republican, a friend of the Bush family.
Mary, give us your take on what if anything this may mean with only five days remaining in this campaign?
MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST, CNN "CROSSFIRE": Well, it's not a surprising development. It won't come as any surprise to Republicans who have been through this before, that five days before the election day of what's being called the most important election in 40 years, rather than talking about substance and rather than talking about the great divide between these candidates and at a time when George W. Bush was ahead in every one of the polls.
My goodness, something like this has happened on the very day that Ralph Nader was talking about Democratic dirty tricks. So I am suspecting when Karen says that the American people will take this -- take things like this in the context in which they're offered, they will consider the timing of.
BLITZER: I want to point out, Mary, our Candy Crowley and other reporters and producers of CNN have been digging into this story. The story was first broken by a Portland, Maine television station, WPXT. The station broke the story after one of its reporters learned of the arrest while covering what's described as an unrelated matter at a local courthouse. Is it not within the realm of possibility that this was honest digging by a reporter in Maine as opposed to dirty tricks by Democrats or the Gore-Lieberman campaign?
MATALIN: Well, I guess it's in the realm of possibility, but it wouldn't necessarily comport with the history of the kind of campaigning we've seen and the stock and trade of the Democratic Party, one that has caused Bush to say and which has been a very well- received thing that he has been saying.
It's time to change the tone. It's time to stop this kind of politics. There's a lot of substance, a great difference between these candidates, between these parties, a big future in front of us. Here we are five days out talking about something that happened 24 years ago. It might have been some digging but it looks more like it wasn't a friend of George Bush's that put something like this out.
BLITZER: And one more point, Mary, put on your old strategist hat, your partisan political strategist hat, give some advice. If you were working directly for the Bush campaign, for Governor George W. Bush right now, what would be the best strategy in damage control?
MATALIN: To just do what they're -- exactly what they're doing. Karen Hughes has made it very clear that the governor has talked about this in the past. He made mistakes, not proud of them. He is as a parent and you know this as a parent, Wolf, all the parents out there know that you don't itemize your mistakes for your children and just push on with his closing message, which is he wants to bring this country together and there's -- and he's offering a different view of government, an activist, focused one, stay on message and I'm sure they will.
BLITZER: All right, stand by Mary. I want to bring back Candy Crowley. She's our senior political correspondent who's been covering the Bush campaign for many months. If Karen Hughes or other top officials, Candy, of the Bush campaign knew of this so many months ago, you think they're second guessing themselves right now, saying well, maybe they should have come clean a long time ago and get this in the open on their own terms as opposed to letting it come out so late in the game?
CROWLEY: Well, I mean, I suppose it depends on what the fallout is, Wolf. I don't know that they're at this point second-guessing. They just came out and, you know, moved on to the next stop. One of the things I will say is that in no small matter, is George Bush involved in the source of decisions and he again has said all along, I don't think you'd delineate your mistakes for your children.
So if he had advisers said let's get this out there, let's get past it, it would not be surprising if he said I'm not going to do it. So I would not be surprised if this were not a candidate decision.
BLITZER: And I just want to quote what you reported earlier, Karen Hughes saying, Candy, the timing of an announcement like this four or five days away from the election about an incident 24 years ago which the governor's daughters don't even know about is certainly questionable.
Mary Matalin, you know the Bush family very well. You know the governor, you know the whole family, the parents, obviously. Give us some perspective on why the governor perhaps might not want -- decide that he didn't want to release this information so many months ago when perhaps it would have caused less damage than it might cause right now?
MATALIN: Well, let me make it clear that I'm here as an employee of CNN, as the "CROSSFIRE" co-host, and in no way do I speak for the campaign or for the family. But I think Candy just spoke to it and I did earlier. He is a parent, he is a father of two young girls about which he has said before the campaign and in the campaign, I'm not going to itemize mistakes that are long in my past, far away in my past, mistakes which I have fixed. So that -- you know with Bush, from the beginning, all the way through the campaign, up until the White House, what you see is what you get. What he said is what it is. He's not, for the sake of his daughters and his parents, he's not going to itemize something he did when he was a youngster or near youngster.
BLITZER: All right, Mary Matalin and our entire crew, Bill Schneider, Candy Crowley, John King, everybody stand by. We'll have much more on this, including the other day's political news when our special report, COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000 continues.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special report, COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000, where we're following a developing story, revelation that some 24 years ago, Governor George W. Bush, then a private citizen, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Maine.
Here's Karen Hughes speaking about that only a few minutes ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: A mistake that he made in the past and he's not proud of this.
QUESTION: Karen, is this the only time this has happened?
HUGHES: His driving privileges were suspended in Maine, and no, he did not drive during that period.
QUESTION: Any other arrest of this nature of any other kind?
HUGHES: As we've previously disclosed, Governor Bush was arrested in college for a fraternity prank involving a Christmas wreath where he and some of his friends took a Christmas wreath from a hotel.
He was also asked to leave a football game where he and some friends had been rowdy. But these are the only arrests, plus this one -- are the only arrests that Governor Bush has ever been involved in.
QUESTION: Did he in court on this charge?
HUGHES: I do not know the answer to that. He did plead guilty. He was released personal recognizance bond as is the...
QUESTION: Did he spend the night in jail, Karen?
HUGHES: I do not believe so. He was released on a personal...
QUESTION: There was no accident involved in this?
HUGHES: No, not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Was there any one else in the vehicle when he was driving?
HUGHES: Yes, John Newcombe and his wife and the governor's sister Dorothy, and he believes one other friend may have been with him.
QUESTION: Four other people?
HUGHES: He believes so. To the best of his recollection, John Newcombe was with him. He believes John Newcombe's wife was with him. His sister Dorothy was with him and he believes there was one another person, a friend he thinks, of Dorothy's, with them. QUESTION: What was his blood alcohol?
QUESTION: What were the circumstances, Karen?
HUGHES: He had several beers. I don't know that it was taken. He acknowledged that he had been drinking.
QUESTION: In a bar, in someone's home?
HUGHES: In a bar. He was apparently -- he was leaving a bar. He had had several beers; he had too much to drink.
As you all know, Governor Bush quit drinking 14 years ago after his 40th birthday. He no longer drinks at all.
QUESTION: Should this matter to any voter?
HUGHES: Well, Ken, I think that, I think -- I hope that a mistake that the governor made 24 years ago would not have an impact in the final days of this election.
This was a mistake. Governor Bush feels that drinking and driving is wrong. He has always acknowledged that he made mistakes in the past. He occasionally drank too much in the past and that's why he stopped drinking after his 40th birthday.
QUESTION: He didn't reveal this previously?
QUESTION: Yes, why didn't he do this sooner?
HUGHES: Ken, I think as a parent, this is something that he knows doesn't set a good example. His own daughters did not know. Mrs. Bush is calling to let them know now. But again, as a parent and as a leader he feels this is something bad example for his own children and for all of America's children. It was a mistake and he is very sorry that it happened.
QUESTION: Why didn't he disclose this earlier?
HUGHES: Again, because he felt he did not set a good example. He has always said that he thinks it's important for parents and for leaders to set good examples.
HUGHES: This is a mistake from his past that he does not think sets a good example for his children or for any other children in America.
QUESTION: Has the governor had a problem with any other substances?
HUGHES: The governor has acknowledged in the past that he has made mistakes. I don't know -- I don't know that. He said he had several beers.
QUESTION: Why are you disclosing this now? HUGHES: It was reported tonight. And apparently someone found out about -- someone -- some television station, I believe, discovered -- found some sort of evidence.
QUESTION: Were there field sobriety tests or...
HUGHES: I do not know -- I do not know that. He acknowledged...
QUESTION: Do you know why he was stopped, Karen? Was he driving erratically or anything?
HUGHES: I believe they -- I don't know exactly, no. I don't know. There was no -- there was no incident -- there's -- I don't know exactly. There was some discussion that he appeared to have been driving too slow -- too slowly. And that he was close to his home, apparently just about a mile away. And was stopped and he acknowledged that he had had several beers.
QUESTION: And he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor?
HUGHES: He pled guilty. It was a misdemeanor, yes.
QUESTION: Was it a misdemeanor drunken driving charge?
HUGHES: It was a misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol.
QUESTION: How does he feel about this coming out now, Karen?
QUESTION: ... information he gave you today?
HUGHES: This is the information that we have determined, yes. What do you mean tonight?
QUESTION: Or did you know this prior?
HUGHES: Well, this was not known by very many people, but I have known about this before, yes.
QUESTION: For how long?
HUGHES: I've known about this in the past.
QUESTION: Karen, are there any other undisclosed arrests in his past?
HUGHES: No, he has not been arrested any other times. Other than -- other than the two incidents that I discussed just a minute ago.
QUESTION: You said he paid a fine?
HUGHES: A $150 fine.
QUESTION: And he did not spend the night in jail or anything?
HUGHES: To the best of my knowledge he did not. I understand he was released on his personal recognizance.
QUESTION: And how long was his license suspended? Or was it...
HUGHES: We have not been able to determine that. We're looking at that -- it was a short period of time, but we've not been able to determine the exact period of time.
QUESTION: When you say several beers, is there an estimate of how many that is?
HUGHES: Thank you all. He said he'd had several beers. I don't know.
QUESTION: How many?
QUESTION: Karen, the charge was DUI as opposed to DWI. Is that right?
HUGHES: Yes. The charge in Maine is driving under the influence of alcohol. And my understanding is the arrest report lists alcohol.
QUESTION: Was this a state police or a copy of a local police arrest report?
HUGHES: I believe it was the Kennebunkport police.
QUESTION: So it was a municipal court type of case?
HUGHES: I believe that's correct.
QUESTION: Who's car was it that was being driven?
HUGHES: I do not know.
QUESTION: Karen, do you have any concerns where this information came from, and whether it may have come from the Gore campaign or the Democrats?
HUGHES: I think the timing of announcement like this, coming out four to five days before the election, about an incident that happened 24 years ago, about which even the governor's daughters did not know, I think is certainly questionable.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. I didn't get the answer to the several beers. Did you say he had only several beers? Is that what you said?
HUGHES: He told me had had several beers. He acknowledged to the arresting officer that he'd have too much to drink.
QUESTION: That would be more than two, wouldn't it? Because two wouldn't make an arrest. HUGHES: Again, he told me several beers.
QUESTION: Do you mean that's all he had to drink was beer?
HUGHES: He said he had several beers.
QUESTION: Karen, what year was it he put his...
HUGHES: It was the September the 4th of 1976, 9/4/76.
HUGHES: I don't know.
QUESTION: Karen, is the governor calling his daughters tonight?
HUGHES: Mrs. Bush is calling them now.
QUESTION: And the second arrest was when he was asked to leave a football game? Was he actually arrested?
HUGHES: Well, I don't know if that's actually an arrest. They were asked to leave, so we have always discussed that as (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Karen Hughes the communications director for the Bush campaign giving details of the arrest some 24 years ago of George W. Bush, then a private citizen, who was 30 years old in Kennebunkport, Maine for driving under the influence of alcohol. That was a raw feed we were getting of Karen Hughes' brief news conference. At the beginning of her news conference, she opened with a statement. I want to play that since we didn't get that in the air. Let's go to the top of that videotape right now and hear Karen Hughes describe specifically what happened 24 years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREN HUGHES, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, BUSH CAMPAIGN: Twenty- four years ago, in September of 1976, in Kennebunkport, Maine where he was visiting his parents, Governor Bush was stopped after leaving a bar where he had had several beers and was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
He pled guilty. He was found guilty of misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol. Paid a $150 fine and had his driving privileges suspended in Maine for a period of time.
Governor Bush has always acknowledged that he made mistakes in the past, years ago when he was drinking. This was a mistake. This is something he is not proud of. Drinking and driving is wrong. And it's -- this is, again, this is a mistake he made in the past and he is not proud of this.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Karen Hughes then going to field questions about this arrest 24 years ago. John King, our senior White House correspondent, you've been a reporter in Washington for a long time. You know how these stories develop, John.
Is this is the kind of story, as we say in the business, that has legs, that's going to be around for the last few days of this campaign or is it going to be over with the next few hours?
KING: Well, Wolf, that's very difficult to say. If you go back to 1992 when the Gennifer Flowers allegations came against then- Governor Clinton, even many leading Democrats thought he was going to leave the race. Then there was the controversy about whether he had taken steps to evade the draft. And in that controversy, the governor steadfastly told his aides things like he never received the draft letter. It turns out he had received a draft letter.
Well, he was elected president of the United States and then re- elected. His character, his credibility, his truthfulness always a question. Will a drunk driving arrest, a DWI arrest of Governor Bush at the age of 30 impact the election is very hard to say.
Again, it comes at a time when the Gore campaign is raising questions about whether he is ready to lead the country. Those questions directed mostly at the fact that he's been governor now for just six years, hadn't held elected office before that. The vice president trying to make the case he is much more ready to be president of the United States.
This is a very close race. The national polls shows Bush with a 3, 4 percentage point lead. If you go state by state, you can make the case that you can see the vice president winning narrowly by an electoral college majority. You can make the case that Governor bush could do it. We have four days left. How this will play out, very hard.
Certainly, though, it is a distraction of the type no campaign wants. As I mentioned, we've spoken to several senior Republican strategists who can't believe that Governor Bush would not have put this out some years ago because they think it is harmless if put out in the proper context.
We also should tell out viewers we were told that Vice President Gore, who's on his way to New Mexico, was informed about this a short time ago by his senior staff. He said at the time he did not believe it was appropriate for him to comment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, John King, stand by. We're going to take another quick break. When we come back, we'll bring in Tucker Carlson and Bill Press from CNN's "THE SPIN ROOM." They have some spin of their own on this latest development. Stay with us.
BLITZER: We're continuing our special report COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000. This programming note: Jeff Greenfield's "UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM" is not going to be seen during this half hour so we can bring you the latest on the developing story that we are covering; a revelations that 24 years ago at the age of 30, Governor George W. Bush was arrested while driving under the influence of alcohol.
Tucker Carlson and Bill Press, the hosts of CNN's "THE SPIN ROOM" are standing by in Washington. First of all, Tucker, give us your sense what this means five days out from the election, a station, a television station in Portland, Maine going through some old records finding out that in 1976 Governor Bush, then a private citizen, a 30- year-old private citizen, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, CNN "THE SPIN ROOM": Well, I guess it turns out that when he was young and irresponsible, he was young and irresponsible. He said that. I mean, I think he's got -- it's embarrassing.
And I think the Bush campaign clearly made a mistake in not letting it out sooner. There were four other people in the car. It turns out that they can keep a secret. I guess we knew that already. They should have in some way leaked this earlier. They didn't. I think they've got a couple things on their side.
One, they've been pretty forthright, or at least Karen Hughes appeared to be pretty forthright in her explanation of what happened. Probably most important it happened 24 years ago, and also she claimed, anyway, that Bush was pulled over when he was going too slowly.
I mean, if you consider all the many options to that, consider the many ways people are arrested for DUI -- I mean, he wasn't driving on the sidewalks, so maybe people will say, my cousin was arrested for DUI. Not a big deal. Maybe that will happen.
BLITZER: And we're still standing by awaiting Governor Bush's remarks in Wisconsin. When he does speak, we'll bring those remarks to you live.
Bill Press, you're a former chairman of the Democratic Party in California. You know how Democrats think in a situation like this. I want to point out to our viewers we did invite a representative from the Gore campaign to joins us now to discuss the reaction from the Gore campaign to this latest develop. They declined at this point.
What should the Gore campaign be doing, if anything, in dealing with this developing matter?
BILL PRESS, CO-HOST, CNN "THE SPIN ROOM": Well, I believe they should be doing, Wolf, exactly what they are doing, which is keeping out of it and keeping their mouth shut. You know, I've been on the phone, as Tucker has, trying to find out how this story developed. It does appear it was an independent affiliate of Fox News up in Portland, Maine that went through the court records in Maine, developed this story and brought it forward. I think if the Gore campaign were to talk about they would just feed the speculation that somehow they were behind the story. But I have to say, based on -- back to what Tucker said, that, you know, this was a mistake and we all make mistakes.
And I don't think political candidates ought to be held responsible for mistakes they made 24 years ago, whether it's a real estate deal or whether it's a DUI, as long as they've corrected their past since, which George Bush has done.
I think the bigger mistake was that the campaign knew about this and they did not just put it out there early on. I mean, whenever he's asked about his alcohol problems or possible drug problems Bush just says, look, you know, I made a lot of mistakes. I had a wild youth or whatever and he won't talk about it.
Well, it turns out there was this thing here. If they'd put that out there a long time ago, nobody would even be talking about it. The fact that it does come out now, I think, number one, raises questions about his credibility and two, opens the door, as you heard, Wolf, we all heard it with those reporters saying, well what about other substance abuse? What about this? I think it opens the door to all of those questions which so far they have effectively kept out of bounds. Now, it's open season.
CARLSON: Yes, that's right. I mean, at some point you get a frenzy. I mean, looking, you know, in the Karen Hughes press conference, there's a lot of people I know actually, you know, leaning with the microphone and stuff. You don't want that. Whether there's anything at the bottom of the frenzy is an entirely different question.
The point is you don't want this to continue. And when Karen Hughes was asked, you know, are there any other problems we ought to know about, she said, the governor has said he made mistakes in the past. I'm not sure that's an effective response. You want to assure the press, look, here's what's there, we don't need to go any farther, we don't need to have these mob scene press conferences.
PRESS: And that's all there is.
PRESS: And she didn't say that.
BLITZER: I want to bring back John King, our senior White House correspondent, who has been covering this campaign now, as all of us have, for many, many months. You remember several months ago during the primaries there were a lot of questions asked about Governor Bush, about using illegal substances and drinking problems, but that went away eventually and we haven't heard anything about this over these past many, many months.
And all of a sudden, of course, this Portland television station has this news report tonight, which we're all talking about. What does the governor have to do right now to make it go away as quickly as possible?
KING: Well, that will depend a lot on how we in the media handle this question in the coming days. Certainly, he is going to be asked about it and he's going to have to speak to it.
He may say exactly what his spokeswoman just said, but I've been through this many times with President Clinton and these controversies, and the campaign staff will say one thing or the White House staff one thing and the reporters tend not to be satisfied until they hear it from the candidate himself or the president himself, in the case of Mr. Clinton.
So I suspect that by some time tomorrow the Bush campaign will decide that Governor Bush will have to say something about this. Otherwise, they will continue to face the questions, the question about exactly what the governor might have done. As Bill and Tucker have been discussing, he has acknowledged that he had some problems in his youth. He has acknowledged that he had drinking problems.
Those questions went away because the governor was so steadfast in his position that he would not discuss his past. But he himself has brought up his drinking problem while out campaigning. Just this past Tuesday in California the governor visited a Catholic charity, among the services provided there, counseling to those with drug problems and drinking problems. When a man brought up his addiction to drugs, Governor Bush responded by discussing his drinking problem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We need to understand the power of faith in people's lives when it comes to helping people fight addictions. I was able to share with some of the men and women here that I quit drinking in 1986, and I haven't had drop since then. It wasn't because of government program, by the way, in my particular case. Because I heard a higher call. That these men and women don't stand alone. That they don't stand alone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, when the governor gave up drinking, he said it was the day after his 40th birthday. This incident now in the news, this DWI arrest, the governor pleading guilty, was 10 years before that on Labor Day weekend back in 1976. Again, the governor was pulled over. He acknowledged he had been drinking, paid a $500 fine and temporarily had his right to drive in the state of Maine suspended. The Bush campaign pointing fingers, saying this comes out so close to the election, in their view curious timing. Again, the Democrats and the Gore campaign saying they had nothing to do with it. And as you mentioned, Wolf, the first reports came up today, local station in Maine.
BLITZER: All right, John King stand by. Tucker Carlson and Bill Press stand by. We're going to take another quick break. More on this developing story and our COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000 when we continue.
BLITZER: Governor Bush is speaking at a rally in Wisconsin. Let's listen in to see what he says.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: And tell the Congress you're not going to touch it. It's only meant for Social Security. But this issue changed, folks, because there's a lot of younger workers who understand -- who understand there's not going to be enough people putting in the system when people like me and Thompson retire. And so therefore in order to make sure the system works, we must let younger workers at your option take your own money and put it into private markets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Governor Bush speaking in West Allis, Wisconsin tonight about his regular stump speech, obviously. Unclear if he's going to make any direct reference to this latest revelation that some 24 years ago he was arrested in the state of Maine for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst, I want to bring you back and I want to take a look at the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll. The latest numbers I want to show that on our screen, if we can, Governor Bush at 47 percent; Al Gore at 43 percent; Ralph Nader 4 percent; Pat Buchanan at 1 percent. If we take a look at what we call the poll of polls, several other tracking polls that have been released tonight, all of them showing a very similar 3 or 4 point spread between Governor Bush and Al Gore. It's still very much of a horse race, isn't it?
SCHNEIDER: It certainly is. And these polls show very little change today. Two of the polls are exactly the same as yesterday. Two of the show the race one point closer. You know, Wolf, very often in the past when a challenger like Bush establishes a lead, voters towards the end of the campaign develop what's called buyer's remorse.
They begin to have a little doubt and the incumbent party candidate, that would be Gore in this race, starts gaining support. I think Gore may be counting on some buyer's remorse to help him out in the last few days and maybe an incident like this revelation could help contribute to that.
BLITZER: And as important as these national poll numbers are, and remember there is a 2 or 3 point margin of error, what is much more important, of course, are some of the statewide polls in the major battleground electoral college states. And there have been some changes at least overnight as far as CNN's projection of what the electoral college looks like right now.
SCHNEIDER: Well, we have just one change in our electoral map, but you know, it's a big one. We now show Bush carrying 26 states, those are in red, including the key battleground state of Missouri, which was in the toss-up category until today. Missouri has supported the winner in every presidential election in the 20th century with one exception, 1956. That give -- Missouri gives Bush 11 more electoral votes for a total of 225. It takes 270 to win. Now Gore still has 11 states and the District of Columbia. Those are the blue states, a total 171 votes.
Now that leaves 13 states with 142 electoral votes now in the toss-up category. Those are the ones in yellow on the map. Missouri Republicans, we're told, are showing more interest and enthusiasm, especially since the Democrats have lost Governor Mel Carnahan, who was expected to be their standard-bearer in Missouri.
BLITZER: If you take a look, though, at the two key battleground state -- at least those with the most electoral votes, Florida and Michigan, right now, what are the polls suggesting? Do we know who is ahead by any significant margin in those two states?
SCHNEIDER: Nobody's ahead by a significant margin in those two states. Those are very big states. Gore has been ahead by a small margin in Florida, and that's why both candidates have spent a lot of time there. Michigan, by all accounts, look likes an absolute dead heat. If there's any close state in this country, it is Michigan.
BLITZER: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks again for joining us. We have to take another quick commercial break. When we come back, we'll give our audience the results of this huge mock student election that occurred today. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special report, countdown to election 2000. We want to report the results now of a huge mock student election that occurred nationwide, and the results are as followed.
George W. Bush won 56 percent of the vote, Al Gore 39 percent of the vote, Ralph Nader 4 percent of the vote, Pat Buchanan 1 percent of the vote. That adds up to 100 percent of the vote.
A win in this mock student election that we were watching all day on CNN for George W. Bush, obviously before the latest revelation that he was arrested some 24 years ago for driving under the influence of alcohol.
At this point, I want to bring in an interview that I conducted earlier before, once again, this revelation about the driving under the influence of alcohol that George Bush had, an interview that I did with "The Tonight Show's" Jay Leno.
BLITZER: Jay Leno, thanks for joining us on our special report, COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000. It's a very exciting moment for all of us.
But let me begin with two guests you had on your program earlier this week, the two presidential candidates. Tell us which one was funnier.
LENO: Which was funnier? Oh, well, you know, both are such hilarious dynamic men: I mean, Bush with the sharp intellectual, rapier wit or Gore with the physical comedy. It's hard to tell, but it's amazing to me that that even counts in a presidential election.
BLITZER: It is amazing. I want to get that in a second. Listen, we have a couple of excerpts from what your viewers, your millions of viewers all over the United States saw, first on Monday when George W. Bush was a guest on your program.
Listen to this little snippet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")
LENO: Now, the Gore campaign hinting, oh, you might not be up for the job. I think Lieberman was saying that.
BUSH: I don't think -- I don't think that was a hint.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Am I right or wrong? Was bush a little sensitive to that?
LENO: Yes, probably, probably. Well, wouldn't you be?
BLITZER: I think I would be if they said I wasn't up to the job that I'm trying to do.
LENO: I mean, there's nastier than a presidential campaign. You know, it's funny. People say, "Oh, do these candidates ever get mad at you, the things you do, the jokes you make about them?" Well, my god, it's not half as bad as the things they say about each other and these awful ads where, you know, the ones where you can't quite believe: My opponent believes in giving handguns to children. Well, no, that can't actually be what happened, is it? So this is -- this is a piece of cake compared to those.
BLITZER: This is relatively mild stuff. All right, listen to this little excerpt when Al Gore was on your program on Tuesday. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")
LENO: There was as huge article about this -- this "Rolling Stone."
AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What are you getting at, Jay?
LENO: Well, thank you for the million laughs. This was -- when it got slow, there was this whole talk about, oh, this had been air brushed because it was too sexy or something. (LAUGHTER)
GORE: Jay, I think people buy that magazine for the articles.
LENO: All right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's getting a little risque with these candidates, wasn't it?
LENO: Yes, I think so, but it's late at night. And you know, the one thing that these kinds of shows do is the spin doctor and the handler aren't there, and they need -- they just get a chance to be regular people and be funny.
I mean, to me, doing these television shows is the same thing as maybe 50 or 75 years ago, you know, when candidates would go to different neighborhoods. You go to the Italian neighborhood: "Hey, give me a meatball! Well, it's delicious." And you go to the Jewish neighborhood: "Have a bagel!" And then you to the Mexican neighborhood and you put on a sombrero. And you know, and that's all this is. It's just an electronic version of that. It's just gladhanding, gladhanding, going from, you know, neighborhood to neighborhood.
BLITZER: After some of the things you've said about Al Gore, some of the things you've said about George W. Bush, I guess they just sort of push that aside and say let bygones be bygones.
LENO: Yes, I mean, you know, if you can't take it when comedians poke fun at you, good heavens, how are you going to sit down with Yasser Arafat or somebody else? You know, I mean, I think you're not questioning anybody's patriotism here. Oh, sure, you're calling them pinheads and idiots, but that's OK.
BLITZER: You know, there was that story in "The New York Times" Sunday magazine about the role that your show, some of the other late- night shows are playing. Some of these exchanges, are they ad lib, off-the-cuff, or basically scripted? Do these candidates know in advance some of the questions you're going to ask?
LENO: Some of them, yes, some of them. I mean, obviously, there are some icebreakers. You say to a candidate, I'll go in, I'll meet with them, and say, hey, anything funny happen on the campaign trail? Let's start off with anything loose. Anything silly? And they'll say, well, let's see what happened. Well, a crazy person came up and did this. And I said, all right, we'll talk about that for a little bit, and then I'll ask you hopefully some serious questions or some questions from the audience. And those usually are the ones they haven't seen.
But the first three or four minutes is just kind of an icebreaker to let you know you're not setting them up for a fall. They're just here to relax and have a good time and be loose.
BLITZER: And Jay Leno talking about his role in this campaign, interviewing both presidential candidates.
Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for this special report, COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000.
"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. His guest, Ross Perot. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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