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Election 2000: Voters' Choices for Congress may Reflect Desire for Campaign Finance Reform

Aired November 8, 2000 - 10:52 a.m. ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: I'm Frank Sesno in Washington. We've been talking a lot about the presidential contest; as you know, the final and official results have to await a recount in the state of Florida.

Let's tell you what's happening on Capitol Hill as well. The House of Representatives, at this hour, we can tell you, 217 won by the Republicans; 209 by the Democrats; seven still undecided, undetermined, just too close to call; and two independents. So that chamber undetermined, but clearly very close.

On the Senate, 50 Republicans have been declared winners, 49 Democrats. There is one race still up for grabs, too close to call in Washington state. Slade Gorton, the Republican, holding a slim lead over Maria Cantwell, the Democrat challenger. Her campaign telling CNN that based on their understanding of the outstanding absentee ballots, they are optimistic; that, once counted, Maria Cantwell will become yet another Democrat to bump off a Republican and move to Washington. We will see; that will take some time to count those ballots, perhaps the rest of this week.

Joining us now, Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska and also Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin joining us from Madison.

Senator Feingold, let me start with you, if I may, and specifically, now, to the case in Florida. How serious is this recount, how outstanding -- you heard Jesse Jackson a short time ago, effectively saying that some people feel they've been cheated.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Well, it's dead serious. I won my first election by 31 votes out of 47,000 in 1982, and I had conceded defeat on election night, thinking I had lost by 19 votes -- that's only in a state Senate race, and 1,500 votes changed hands. So the presidency hangs in the balance here and it's just important that the process be absolutely legitimate and careful, and I don't think there's any great hurry. This has to be done right.

SESNO: Senator Hagel?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, I agree. I have every confidence that it will be done right and legitimately and honestly and I think we all should be very careful not to speculate or cast any question or doubt or blame on any of this. This will be done the right way; and, my goodness, the media, as you all know, Frank, is all over this process. So I have great confidence in what happens down there and, just as Russ said, of course it's critical -- it determines the fate and future of this country of the next four years, the outcome of that recount.

SESNO: Senator Hagel, a lot of Republican incumbents lost and, depending on what happens, you'll -- it would appear -- retain control, even if it's 50-50, you don't have the edge; what happened?

HAGEL: Well, I don't know what happened. I suspect we'll sort that out over the next couple of weeks. But I think it does reflect, Frank, the national situation. We have got a presidential race here that is too close to call. That reflects what happened in the Senate races as well as, to some degree, in the House. So I think it was a national situation and I don't know if it just was isolated to one area or to one body or not -- it appears not.

SESNO: Senator Feingold, if it's 50-49 or 50-50, what does that mean for Democrats, what does that mean for governing?

FEINGOLD: Well, we're going to have to operate on a bipartisan basis more than we ever have. It can't just be a slogan. Nobody is going to be able to get anywhere or anything with this tight of a presidential race in the House and the Senate the way they are. But I think one of the big stories last night is that the Republican incumbents that lost were opponents of campaign finance reform; and they were very important opponents of campaign finance reform.

Senator McConnell has said for years that nobody's ever lost their seat because of campaign finance reform. Well I think it's very arguable -- that in Delaware, and in Michigan and in Minnesota, and perhaps also in the state of Washington, depending how that comes out -- that they lost because they've been supporting this soft money system. And guess what? I think the filibuster of Mitch McConnell is dead. I think we have the 60 votes now to defeat it and the only question now is whether the president will sign it.

SESNO: All right Senator Hagel, let's get through to that point -- this flood of money, $3 billion that went into this campaign cycle -- do the Republicans, and you've been a Republican who has been in favor of some form of campaign finance reform to stem this flood -- does it happen now?

HAGEL: Well I think Russ makes a good point. It does isolate this issue with some new clarity. But I wouldn't extend it as far as Russ does. I mean, look at Hillary Clinton, she gobbled up as much soft money as anybody out there. So I think Russ's clear analysis of this is a little fuzzy.

But the real point here is that it will give us an opportunity to get into campaign finance reform and I believe we will. I think George Bush will do that. Certainly, George Bush has talked about campaign finance reform and Al Gore said he'd make it his first priority. So I think we will get a campaign finance reform bill done next year. SESNO: Senator Hagel -- we're almost out of time, gentlemen -- Senator Hagel, in three words, is Trent Lott going to be challenged for his leadership?

HAGEL: Three words: I don't know.


SESNO: You did it; thanks very much, Chuck Hagel and Russ Feingold joining us right now. Sorry, wish we could go on, but we've got to take a break.

And we'll be back with more on our coverage -- campaign 2000; election still up for grabs.



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