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Democrats Get Victory from Delay

Aired September 15, 2003 - 14:31   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The big news of the day, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals delaying that October 7 vote. Six counties, including Los Angeles still using those punch card ballots. Here we are three years now out from the election of 2000, and they're still using them. The appeals court even cited the Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore decision in it as a matter of fact. And it agreed with the ACLU that that the card system would disenfranchise voters.
CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider brought up an interesting point. In the 44 percent represented in this election by punch card ballots, in punch card balloting, disproportionate numbers are minorities. And I guess that's really where the legal rubber hits the road so to speak.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's exactly right. Because the argument is that if those minorities are forced to use punch card ballots as they here in Los Angeles County, a county with about 7 million people, the largest county in the country, that they will be disproportionately hurt in this procedure.

Look, punch card machines have something like a 2 percent error rate which is extraordinarily high. Whereas touch screen voting, the new system that's used in a lot of other counties have about a half a percent error margin.

So the idea is if the error in counting the votes is going to be much larger in a place like Los Angeles with heavy concentrations of minorities, those minorities will be disproportionately affected. and that's what the court ruled today. You have to do away with those punch cards, which they were planning to do in California, but in time for the March primary, not this surprise October recall election.

O'BRIEN: OK, That answered one of my questions that I had. I wasn't sure if they were working on it. I'm glad they're working on it. At least they'll have it ready by March.

Now, let's plug this into national politics for just a moment. You've got a lot of presidential hopefuls headed that direction. I imagine their own interests might be No. 1 on the list.

But nevertheless, they were there, the Democrats there to help Gray Davis along. Try to plug this in to how this might ultimately affect the presidential race. Is there any way this can all be spun out into it?

SCHNEIDER: There's a very simple principle here. As this campaign has gone on it's gotten much more partisan. The Democrats -- Davis seems to be picking up support. That is more and more voters seem to be opposing the recall. They're resenting it...


O'BRIEN: I just want to interrupt you briefly. We're looking at live pictures now of Gray Davis at that event we're talking about. And there is Lieutenant Governor Bustamante. And, of course, the former President of the United States Bill Clinton is there. Don't see him right now.

In any case, we're going to bring that to you as soon as they start talking.

Bill, go back to you.

SCHNEIDER: That's right, that's exactly right. Bill Clinton is there, and that means that they're trying to nationalize this race. They don't -- what they're saying is we know Gray Davis is not a highly popular figure. A lot of Democrats don't know and aren't too enthusiastic about Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante.

But what the Democrats are doing is bringing in Bill Clinton, they're going to bring in Jesse Jackson, they're going to bring in the 2004 presidential contenders, John Kerry and Bob Graham are going to be here this week. All to campaign with Gray Davis and essentially say this is a partisan plot by the Republicans, the last in a series starting with the attempt to remove Bill Clinton from office, and the Florida recount and the Texas restricting and now the California recall.

It's all part of a plot, the Democrats say. They instantly want to nationalize this vote. And now they're going to have more of a chance to do it. So they're not saying vote for Gray Davis, he's still very unpopular even among Democrats. They're saying vote against the vast right-wing conspiracy that's perpetrating this recall.

O'BRIEN: The right-wing conspiracy, of course. Hearkening back to former first lady now junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton.

Does the right-wing conspiracy work with the electorate or does that just enrage the right-wingers in California when they hear that?

SCHNEIDER: Of course it enrages them, but the problem is they are they're outnumbered. Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 44 to 35 in California. So if you make this a party mobilization, that is you mobilize Democrats to vote against the right-wing conspiracy and you've already got your Republicans mobilized -- they despise Gray Davis and they despise Bill Clinton -- there are just more Democrats.

And if you get the Democrats out to vote, which is exactly what Clinton is doing here this week and what those other Democrats are doing here, the calculation is you're going to have the Democrats win. That's why you asked about the national implications at first, this could be very bad news for President Bush. He has a hope of carrying California, I suppose. For a while after 9/11, 2001, he was popular in California as he was in the rest of the country. They would dearly love to carry California.

But anything that creates partisan intensity is going to give the advantage to Democrats here in California because they outnumber Republicans. It's simple math.

O'BRIEN: Now we should point out how remarkable this picture is that we're seeing here. It's first time I can recall since this whole thing began that I've seen Gray Davis along with Cruz Bustamante. And I don't believe they said a peep to each other. That's just what I've seen on camera.

But just fact, why are the two men together today?

SCHNEIDER: Well they were together yesterday in a remarkable moment when Cruz Bustamante literally interrupted Gray Davis' speech at a California convention over the weekend and came out there and clearly orchestrated -- the governor said to him, Bien venidos, Lieutenant Governor.

Clearly, they wanted to show that they are a solid front. The Democrats honestly want to say to all the other Democrats, vote against the recall but stay at the polls to vote for Bustamante as an insurance policy.

That makes sense to most Democrats. The governor was reluctant to endorse that because he said, Look, if I tell people to vote for Cruz Bustamante to replace me, what am I'm telling them to vote for in the recall? How can people do that?

And a lot of voters in California, a lot Democrats may end up voting to keep Gray Davis and then they'll go home. So what they're trying to say is as an insurance policy vote for Bustamante. And we're seeing the governor and the lieutenant governor who have not been on good terms for the last few years, but they're now appearing together to try to present a solid Democratic front.

Bottom line, the Democrats's plan is to make this as partisan as possible, to nationalize this race, to make it about Tom DeLay and George Bush, figures who are not very popular in California, to mobilize that Democratic vote, so that it'll save Gray Davis and hurt George Bush in his prospects next year.

O'BRIEN: Of course I think the whole thing got nationalized a long time ago, hence our discussion and air time today on this very subject.

While we're waiting here, I just want to ask you, because we were going to talk about this anyway today. Bill Clinton, suddenly, has become a Democratic darling. Three years ago he was positively radioactive. What's happened? SCHNEIDER: Well he's always been popular in California where they constantly call him a rock star. He paid a lot of attention to California. Remember, California was in the pits when he became president. This state was a wreck economically and they really revived in the 1990s, and they look back on the Clinton period...


O'BRIEN: That's because his running mate invented the Internet, right?


SCHNEIDER: Well of course! But here in California, California did very well in the '90s and now its economy has dropped down again. There's been a big bust in Silicon Valley, in Northern California. Times are really tough. And they look back with great nostalgia on the Clinton years. That's one reason. The economy was terrific. Those were the boom years.

And the other reason is Clinton paid a lot of attention to California. He's the kind of candidate California loves. He was Mr. Hollywood. The sex stuff, the Monica Lewinsky, what's the problem with that? California never cared about that. Clinton was very much a California kind of candidate. bob Dole was not and George Bush is not. California looks at George Bush and he's from Mars.

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

Let me ask you this then. You make it sound as if Clinton's ability to help other Democrats is limited to California. Are we likely to see him out in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as it were, throughout the course of this presidential election season? Or is this his only turf where he's valuable?

SCHNEIDER: He's valuable on both coasts. I think you'll see him in the Northeast in places like New York where of course he now lives with his wife, who's the senator. You can see him on the West Coast, where he's very popular. There are parts of the country where Clinton is still extremely very popular. Nowhere more than here in California.

Maybe New York is very close to that. They remember the Clinton years as the boom years and as Bush looks like he's in more and more trouble as people begin to become more critical of the Iraq engagement. As they say what happened to all those jobs created during the Clinton years? Clinton is remembered with great fondness and great nostalgia.

A lot of people here and in other parts of the country want those Clinton years back. There are places like Texas that he probably won't appear. I don't think you'll see him very much in Georgia or Mississippi. But there are states where Clinton can do the Democrats a great deal of good.

Look, the bottom line is this country is still as closely divided as it was in November 2000 when you had a perfect tie in the presidential election. That perfect tie still prevails. So Karl Rove made the comment very recently, There are no swing voters anymore. There's a Democratic base, there's a Republican base. And you've got to get those voters out.

If you want the Democratic base out Bill Clinton does it. But the problem is, he also gets the Republican base out in all those red states that voted for George Bush. So he's not going to go there. he's going to go to the blue states, the Gore states.

O'BRIEN: All right, swing voters, swingers, whatever the case may be.

We're looking at pictures now. We see some polite applause and we suspect out of view of our camera right now, might very well be one William Jefferson Clinton, there to accept the honor of having the school named after him. Right now we don't have a shot though. So We're going to keep watching that.

And I tell what we'll do, Bill Schneider. I want to bring up this interview. Arnold Schwarzenegger sat down with Oprah. And this was, of course, before the announcement from the 9th Circuit, which calls everything into question and changes a lot of things. It was the first time he and his wife, Maria Shriver, sat down together for an interview.

And in any case, he had some things to say about Mr. Clinton coming to his home state of California.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIF. GOV. CANDIDATE: Everyone wants to predict California now. All the Democrats are coming out there to protect California, to make sure that Gray Davis stays in there, so that the next president is a Democratic president.

They don't care about California that much. They care more about winning presidencies. That's what this is all about. And to me it makes no difference, they can all come out there. The whole Democratic Party can come out there because it's between me and the people. The people -- we have to go and reach out to the people, communicate with the people.


O'BRIEN: The whole Democratic Party can come out. By the way, there is the former president of the United States, screen right as he is being introduced.

Bill Schneider, the whole Democratic Party can come out.

SCHNEIDER: And they are!

O'BRIEN: Arnold Schwarzenegger says he's ready for them, and sure enough they are.

SCHNEIDER: He's "The Terminator." He's ready for them.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Well, beyond the swagger on Oprah, what is he doing, in reality there? Spending a lot of money on commercials, stepping up his campaign, will he agree to another debate, for example?

SCHNEIDER: Well so far he's agreed to one debate which he says is the key debate in this campaign. He said he want to only go to the main event and that's the California broadcasters, where they're giving him and other candidates the questions in advance.

Well a lot of people say, wait a minute. Can Arnold really debate off the cuff? Does he know enough? The big issue right now is Arnold Schwarzenegger's credibility as a governor. A lot of people say has he been to Sacramento? Does he know where the state Capitol is? Those questions are being raised.

Essentially, one reason Gray Davis is doing better isn't just Bill Clinton and the nationalization of the race. That's going on. But also because Cruz Bustamante looks a little bit weaker, he's taken money from Indian casino gambling interests, he's gotten into trouble because of his youthful associations with some radical student groups.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger look weaker because he doesn't seem to have a lot of substance to say, and he doesn't want to get into the debates.

So the weaker they look, the better Davis looks, and that's one of the reasons why he's been picking up support.

O'BRIEN: All right, the question on everybody's mind, what does this do for the campaign of Gary Coleman?


SCHNEIDER: Well, Gary Coleman is kind of the forgotten man in all this along with, remember, Larry Flynt?

Right now the replacement election looks like a three-way race between one Democrat, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, who's not picking up support, his support seems to be dropping. And two Republicans, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom McClintock.

And the question is will one of the Republicans get out because Tom McClintock has been showing positive growth in the polls, but Arnold is slightly ahead of him. So the question is who's going to get out of that race? Is either one going to get out? Because if you add Schwarzenegger's Republican vote together with McClintock's Republican vote, you've got about 43 percent compared to 30 for Bustamante.

But since Schwarzenegger and McClintock are splitting the Republican vote, Bustamante wins.

So you've got this very strange dynamic going on here in California. O'BRIEN: All right. And I guess we might have a little time to sort it all out. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.


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