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Special Event

COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000: Four Days to Go

Aired November 3, 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: Big crowds on the campaign trail, The candidates narrow their focus to the key issues and make late appeals for voter turnout.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ask you to go and win this election in Missouri, where the balance lies. .

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we do our job, not only will Michigan be Bush-Cheney country but you will have a new president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tonight, previewing the final weekend of Election 2000, including the fallout from George W. Bush's drunk driving arrest 24 years ago. Our John King and Candy Crowley with the candidates on late efforts to gain an edge. And analyst Bill Schneider on the polls, the strategies, and dealing with the unexpected. Also, radio's king of conservative talk: Rush Limbaugh stops by with his views on the candidates, their messages, and the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK-SHOW HOST: With what we have known and learned the last eight years, why believe anything that comes from the Democratic National Committee or the White House?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All straight ahead on CNN, your election headquarters,

ANNOUNCER: "COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000," four days to go. From Washington, here's CNN'S Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Good evening. For George W. Bush and Al Gore, the critical weekend ahead is the last chance to influence the undecided and lock up support from the party faithful. Today, the two men hammered away at a handful of familiar issues against the backdrop of last night's report that Bush was arrested more than two decades ago for driving under the influence of alcohol. On the trail today, the talk went beyond reaction to the roundabout tale of how the arrest became public.

Governor Bush tried to keep focused with two huge rallies in Michigan. And in the last hour he spoke to a crowd in the traditionally Democratic West Virginia. Al Gore held a morning rally in Kansas City, followed by a stop in Iowa, before heading to his home state of Tennessee for two evening events.

For the latest, we join CNN's John King in Tennessee with the Gore campaign and Candy Crowley with Bush in West Virginia.

I want to begin with you, Candy.

The governor, Governor Bush, spoke in Grand Rapids, Michigan, earlier today. He alluded very, very briefly to perhaps this latest uproar over his arrest some 24 years ago. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: It's become clear to America over the course of this campaign that I've made mistakes in my life. But I'm proud to tell you, I've learned from these mistakes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Candy, how is the Bush campaign dealing with this story? It's now been 24 hours and it seems to have legs, at least for now.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're dealing with the question has legs, because, of course, reporters are out there with more questions about, is there anything else like this? Did the governor ever lie about this incident in public? So, there's been back and forth with obviously the campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes. But Bush, as far as his involvement in all of this, has been he went ahead with campaigning and made that statement that you saw. But, so he is sort of going on one track while the campaign is dealing with reporters and questions on another track.

BLITZER: And John, there is a Democratic political operative in Maine, a man by the name of Tom Connolly, who has now acknowledged he was the source of this information. He provided it to a reporter in Portland. Maine. But he insists that it was just Tom Connolly himself operating and he had no instructions or was not involved in anyone else in the Democratic Party or from the Gore campaign.

Listen to what he told our Bill Delaney in an interview earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: How much Gore campaign involvement are you aware of, if any?

TOM CONNOLLY, FORMER MAINE GUBERNATORIAL. CANDIDATE: Zero, and I believe that to a moral certainty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: John, no one has better sources in the Democratic Party, in the Gore campaign, than you do. Tell us how are they dealing with this?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first and foremost, they say Mr. Connolly is telling the truth. They say they have asked around and that they have no information at all that anyone in the Gore campaign or the Democratic National Committee was involved in this. Their strategy about the episode itself, Governor Bush's arrest, is to say nothing. The vice president today saying he would not comment on it. He didn't think it was appropriate,

They did react angrily, though. to suggestions from the Bush campaign and other Republicans, that this was some kind of Democratic dirty trick. Campaign chairman Bill Daley issuing a statement saying, categorically denying any Gore campaign involvement. And then turning the corner, saying, if there are any questions still to be answered, they are to be answered by Governor Bush and his campaign, not the Democrats.

So, the vice president publicly sticking to his focus on his closing campaign themes. The Gore campaign saying it had nothing to do with this. Privately, of course, they believe it might knock the governor off stride and they're quite happy with that.

BLITZER: Candy, there's another element that came out today. A reporter from "The Dallas Morning News" suggesting that he had asked the governor some four years ago about any possible arrests and insisting the governor was not necessarily completely truthful.

This is how Karen Hughes, the communications director for the Bush campaign reacted to that latest development.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Double check the public record. The only time Governor Bush has been previously asked whether he had ever been arrested for drinking, he responded, quote, I do not have a perfect record as a youth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Candy, is this other aspect of this generating much of an uproar?

CROWLEY: Well, you know. certainly among the press corps. The reporter involved, Wayne Slater of "The Dallas Morning News," said that -- now this is different from what Karen was just talking about -- said that after a news conference a couple years ago, he asked Governor Bush whether or not he had been arrested any time after 1968. Slater says that Bush said no. And this was a conversation between the two of them. And Slater said, well, how about before 1968? And Bush, who had already talked about the fact he had been arrested during a fraternity prank, stealing a Christmas wreath said, oh, wait a minute. And Slater says he got the definite impression that Bush was about to say and correct the no. At that point, Karen Hughes -- again, this is two years ago, came up -- stopped the conversation and moved on.

Now, the question here is: Did Bush say no? The campaign says the governor says absolutely he did not say no to that. They do agree that Wayne Slater and Karen Hughes came away from that conversation and believe that there might be something there. Whether or not this is major, what we have is a conversation that took place between two people, a reporter for "The Dallas Morning News," who says, he told me no. It was not reported at the time. Later on, he followed up on it.

So it's one of those things that, you know, is like a string and you keep pulling it. And as long as that string is there it obviously gets in the way of the message as the Bush campaign tries to deal with it.

BLITZER: And John King, amidst all of this over these past 24 hours, Al Gore is continuing to hammer away. He's not getting off stride his message at all, is he?

KING: No, he's not, Wolf. Here in Tennessee, tonight, the vice president in a tough fight for his home state. He focused in on his difference with Governor Bush on Social Security. An interesting twist tonight, here, back in the South, the vice president making note of his volunteering to serve in Vietnam. Also making clear that while he wants some more gun control, that he does not want take guns away from hunters and sportsmen, he said. So, the vice president tailoring his message here to the South.

They believe the best thing is for him not to talk about this at all. But we did see, later in the day, as the day progressed, some more aggressive questioning by key Democrats. While in Iowa, for example, Senator Tom Harkin approached reporters. He said the issue was not Governor Bush's arrest for driving under the influence. He said, though, this is a man who campaigns on the themes of restoring honesty and integrity to the White House. Senator Harkin suggesting somebody running on those themes, perhaps, should have been more forthcoming about having run afoul of the law even if it was so long ago. So, Democrats not letting this drop completely. It's just the vice president himself won't touch it.

BLITZER: All right, two of the best in the business. John King and Candy Crowley.

Thank you so much for joining us for our countdown to Election 2000.

And joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta is another one of the best in the business, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, first of all. let's take a quick look at how the latest polls stack up in these final days before the election. The three-day CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll finds Bush is holding his lead over Gore, 48 percent to 42 percent. And in the other major polls, we are keeping an eye on: ABC News and "The Washington Post" give Bush 48 percent, Gore 45 percent. The MSNBC/Reuters/Zogby poll has Bush at 46, Gore at 42. "Newsweek" has a new poll that puts Bush ahead by two points and Fox News, look at this, has the race a dead heat. I guess it doesn't get much closer than that.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, we are not seeing a lot of change in these polls. That's the variation we've been seeing every day. The average is about a three-point lead for Governor Bush. But remember, beware, these polls were conducted before the revelations about Governor Bush's drunk driving arrest. So, we do not know yet if that story is having any impact on the race. We at CNN will be continuing to contact voters tonight and over the weekend. And we will be able to report the first indications of what, if any, impact that story is having here on CNN at 12 noon Eastern time this Sunday on "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer. Be there.

BLITZER: Thank you, good plug. Quickly, quickly Bill, how much trouble is the Bush campaign in? if it is in any trouble at all as a result of, so far, this 24-hour story?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the story has taken some new directions today with the revelations that the story originated with a Democratic Party activist. And we heard Governor Bush last night say he found the timing of the revelation highly suspect and a lot of Republicans are trying to spin this as a Democratic dirty trick, even though, as you reported, there has yet been no indication that it's connected at all with the Gore campaign.

What they are doing is trying to mobilize Republicans, to really energize them. They're getting angry, and I think a lot of them feel very angry at the press and at the Democrats, because they're trying to portray this as a very dirty trick

BLITZER: All right, Bill Schneider, we will see you, of course, Sunday on "LATE EDITION" as well. Thanks for joining us.

And next here, a check of the day's other top stories, including the return home of sailors from the USS Cole. And then, the No. 1 radio talk show host in the country, Rush Limbaugh, joins me to talk about how news of the Bush arrest first came to light, and what lies ahead in the campaign's final days. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Our COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000 will continue in just a moment, but first, a quick check of some of the day's other top stories.

More than 200 crew members from the USS Cole returned to their home port of Norfolk, Virginia today. Friends and family crowded the airport tarmac. Cole personnel will be given leaves of absence to spend time with their families. The Cole is now aboard a transport ship off the coast of Yemen. CNN has learned the ship will head for the United States tomorrow.

Two Palestinians were killed and dozens more injured today in clashes in the West Bank and Gaza. The violence came as Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat met with national security officials here in Washington. And a White House spokesman announced President Clinton hopes to hold separate meetings, quote, "in the not-too-distant future," with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Air safety officials in Taiwan say the Singapore Airlines jet that crashed there Tuesday was attempting to take off from the wrong runway. They have questioned the pilot to determine what caused the mix-up. Officials say Flight 006 taxied onto a runway that was closed for construction, hitting a concrete barrier and two cranes. Eighty- one people were killed.

A lingering drought in the Southeast has made conditions prime for wildfires in Southern Appalachia. Some 47,000 acres have burned in seven states. Most of the fires are blamed on careless campers or arsonists. Two Kentucky counties are under a state of emergency.

And now back to our COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000. Every weekday at noon Eastern, Rush Limbaugh takes to the airwaves on radio stations for three hours, as he likes to say, "all across the fruited plain," and spreads the conservative gospel to legions of fans, and probably even a few liberals as well.

Earlier, I talked with Rush Limbaugh about these final days of Election 2000.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Rush Limbaugh, thanks for joining us on our COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000 special. And let's get right to the issue at hand. Should George W. Bush months ago release this information about the drunk driving arrest or she he have waited, presumably, for some critics or enemies of his to release this information?

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Wolf, I think this is past. I think what's done is done, now and to focus on what he should have done some years ago is a mistake. I think the thing for the American people to focus on is the present and the future. How he's dealing with it? With George W. Bush, if I may, there's no pattern of behavior here. This is a one time thing. He faced the cameras. He didn't lie. He didn't make excuses. Didn't try to make himself a victim. Didn't blame it on anybody else. Contrast that with the last four years and actually eight years where it's never their fault. There's always been no controlling legal authority or something. I think with Bush we saw a man who behaved exactly as he's promised he's going to be as president.

And Wolf, I really mean this, over the last eight years it's been tough for moms and dads to point to the White House and say to their children, it's okay to live and be like the man who lives there. But with Bush, based on especially what happened with this incident, I think parents are going to be very confident in pointing to George W. Bush as president, if he wins, and with all comfort and confidence telling their kids it's OK again to be like the president of the United States. I think the way he's dealt with this has just been flawless. And the fact that the Gore campaign is -- or the Democrats, whoever is behind this, put this out at this time is also evidence to me that their own campaign is in real trouble. The polling data that I saw shows them continuing to lose ground. They're just trying to win this by beating up on an opponent, not telling us what's great about them.

BLITZER: You know, I listened to your radio program earlier today...

LIMBAUGH: Way to go.

BLITZER: ... as I often do. And you obviously have concluded that there is some dirty political tricks going on here. Democrats, the Gore campaign, someone involved. You know that the Gore campaign has adamantly denied any involvement in this leak. The Democratic Party nationally has denied any involvement. Is there any hard evidence that either the Democratic Party or the Gore campaign was involved in releasing this information through that Fox affiliate in Portland, Maine?

LIMBAUGH: Now that's a very interesting question. You say they've denied it. But Wolf, this is my point. The last eight years, would you -- well, I know you're not going to answer it and I don't mean to ask you this personally, but I'll just ask it of the audience.

With what we've know and learned the last eight years, why should we believe anything that comes from the Democratic National Committee or the White House. I think the problem they face is that they've become Clintonized. They have seen Clinton in their minds win and triumph by obfuscating, lying, blaming opponents.

They're the ones that engage in politics of personal destruction. They're the ones that do the negative personal attacks. They see it working so that's what they do. That's what this is. If they deny it, I'm sorry I don't believe them. We do know that Tom Connolly in Maine was a former Democratic National Committee grand poobah, and he does admit being the source for this so there is a link there, isn't there?

BLITZER: Yes, and let's speak about Tom Connolly for a second. I want to you listen to what he told our CNN reporter up in New England earlier today on how he got this information that he eventually did in fact leak -- or release to the press. Listen to this.

LIMBAUGH: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM CONNOLLY (D), FORMER MAINE GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: The fact that this person didn't comprehend the significant is an indication of the fact that he's just a civilian person and brought it to someone that saw it as significant - brought it to me. And the reason they brought to me is because I work in the DUI field and I'm also well- known as being connected in Democratic politics. So of course you'd bring it to someone who'd know how to use it effectively. So that's why it wound up on my plate. And I'd sat it's like a bird's nest on the ground. It was just one of those things that came to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He flatly denies he had any connection with the Gore campaign of the national Democratic Party. He just says somebody brought it to him and he went ahead and released it.

LIMBAUGH: OK, then we'll just believe this is just a coincidence, Wolf. You know, just like that couple -- that 75-year- old grandparent couple driving on I-75 in Florida just happened to be driving with a radio in their car that picks up cell-phone signals and just happened to have a tape recording that records those signals and calls and then overheard a conversation with Newt Gingrich and John Boehner, and give it to Jim McDermott. Wound up on the back page of "The New York Times." Just coincidence, and so's this.

I don't -- my experience, my intelligence, guided by experience, tells me not to trust what these people say. Wolf, this has been known -- this happened in what, 1976 and it's 24 years ago this happened or whenever. It comes out five days before the election. The healthy thing to me is to be suspicious of when this comes out and to look at who benefits from it and then draw your own conclusions.

BLITZER: Would you be doing anything if you were directly involved in the Bush campaign differently than they're doing -- than they're dealing with this damage control right now?

LIMBAUGH: Well, that really is not my specialty, and I'm not all that aware of specifically what they're doing, because most of the day today I was doing my own job and working. I did see a little bit of Bush doing his usual campaign stump speech, and I think that's what he's got to do.

That is a great speech. It's inspiring. It motivates people. They're getting jazzed. The Bush base can't wait for Tuesday, Wolf, and the Gore base is demoralized in parts of the country. They tried the president out there to get them ginned up. That didn't work. They tried the Ed Asner phone calls. They still can't get their base all fired up.

So I think Bush should stay on message, continue to tell people why he wants to be and should be their next leader and president, and then demonstrate his characteristics and quality by handling this situation exactly as he has so far.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: When we return, more of my conversation with Rush Limbaugh, including how he really feels about Al Gore. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Now, more of my conversation with radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Earlier today in Kansas City, the vice president reverted to a familiar theme that he's been promoting in his stump speeches.

Listen to what Gore had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He wants to squander this surplus that's been built up by the hard work of the American people on a giant tax cut for the very wealthy, with almost half of all the tax benefits going to the wealthiest 1 percent.

BLITZER: I see you squirming over there, Rush Limbaugh. You've heard this before. But is that kind of, what you would call, class warfare resonating with the Democratic base out there in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania?

LIMBAUGH: Well, I -- as I said, I haven't seen any polling data today, but I don't think that it is, Wolf, and if it is, let me take -- take a shot at it, because you saw me. This is why you're the best, because the questions you ask. Wolf, there's one thing the Bush campaign needs to be doing that they're not and I'm going to try to do it right now.

Gore's talking about this 1 percent, and we're going to spend the surplus on a tax cut. Wolf and the rest of the America, you do not spend money on a tax cut. Washington never spends money on a tax cut.

The class warfare angle of this is that they've created so many dependent people, the liberals have, that a lot of people in this America, in this country, do receive some sort of a government handout. So when they hear that the rich are going to get one, why, I'm the one that needs one. The rich have enough. Why do they?

A tax cut never gets to Washington. People who get a tax cut keep more of what they earn. Washington can't possibly spend it, which is the point. You deny Washington that money and let people who earn it keep it. So there's no way, when Gore says that Bush is going to spend x amount of the surplus on the wealthiest 1 -- it's not true, Wolf. It is another out-and-out distortion, misrepresentation, class warfare, just as you said, designed to scare voters.

This is a despicable campaign. Why scare people, Wolf? Why can't we lift them up and inspire people and try to be better than we are rather than constantly this negative politics, beat people up? And all of this pound, pound, pound is not -- we're better people than this, and we don't need to be insulted by having candidates approach us this way, to scare us, to frighten us...

BLITZER: All right.

LIMBAUGH: ... to make us angry at each other. BLITZER: Let's -- speaking about scary, I'll give you one scary scenario. Tell me how the American public will react if this happens, and it's by no means out of the realm of possibility. George W. Bush wins the general popular vote decisively, but Al Gore carries Florida and Michigan and narrowly wins the electoral college. What happens on the day after November 7th?

LIMBAUGH: The day after on November 7th the American people say the Constitution works, the Constitution prevails. We know that the president is elected as a result of electoral college votes. The Bush campaign extends a concession and congratulations to the Gore campaign.

Now, if it's the other way around, if it is Bush who wins in the electoral college and Gore who loses in the popular vote, then you'll see Gore sue whoever he needs to sue. You'll see the Democrats raising all sorts of heck to try to overturn it, say the electoral college is outdated and outmoded, we shouldn't live by it.

You'll have some Americans in either case scratch their heads, "What's this?" because our education system in the public schools is so inept that some people think the electoral college is what you pay a tuition to and go to for four years to come out with a degree. They don't even know what it is, and we'll have to educate them on that.

But aside from that, I think most people will -- they'll be a little curious. It's only happened three times. But it is the Constitution, and if this country means anything, the Constitution will prevail.

BLITZER: On that note, Rush Limbaugh, I want to thank you for taking some time and joining us on our special report, COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2000.

LIMBAUGH: Best to you, Wolf, and thanks for the chance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Stay tuned to CNN this evening for more special coverage of election 2000. Up next, Jeff Greenfield's "UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM."

And later, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, right after "LARRY KING LIVE," get the latest campaign buzz in "THE SPIN ROOM." Joining us now with a preview are the hosts, Bill Press and Tucker Carlson.

What's up tonight, guys?

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST, CNN "THE SPIN ROOM": Hey, thanks, Wolf. Indeed, that buzzing noise you hear is our overloaded circuits. We received more than 10,000 e-mails last night about George W. Bush's DUI arrest, and they're still coming in. TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, CNN "THE SPIN ROOM": Send more. Join us tonight in "THE SPIN ROOM" by calling 1-800-310-4CNN, by talking in our live online chat at cnn.com/chat, or by stuffing our e-mail box. The address is spin@cnn.com.

PRESS: Tonight, Round 2, your reactions to "Beergate." See you at 10 o'clock Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.

OK, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm spinning already. I'll be watching. We'll be back Monday, by the way, when the countdown to election 2000 will have just one day to go. I'll be hosting a town meeting, including guests: Senator John McCain, Ralph Nader, and Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley.

And be sure to join me Sunday at noon Eastern for "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

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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