<i>FTN</I> Transcript - Feb. 27

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Bob Schieffer, CBS News Correspondent: Today on Face The Nation, can McCain keep it up? It was not supposed to be this way, but John McCain snatched another primary from George Bush in Michigan his week. Now a leading conservative, Bill Bennett, says it`s McCain who`s the best bet to beat the Democrats come fall. We`ll ask him why.

With the big California primary looming, what track will the candidates take now? We`ll talk to top strategists in both camps, Bush communications director, Karen Hughes, and Mike Murphy of the McCain campaign.

It`s gotten so wild, it`s easy to forget there`s a Democratic race out there, too. So we`ll check in with Bill Bradley on that.

But first, Bush looks for a new firewall on Face The Nation.

Announcer: Face The Nation with Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.

Schieffer: Good morning, again. We start with the strategists this morning. Joining us from Austin, Texas, the Bush campaign strategist, communications director, Karen Hughes. From New York City, the McCain campaign strategist, Mike Murphy.

We`re going to talk first to Ms. Hughes.

Well, California is on the horizon, Ms. Hughes, but Virginia`s this week. How are you going to do in Virginia?

Karen Hughes, Bush Communications Director: We feel very good about Virginia, Bob. I think the governor`s message of being a reformer with results, someone who has brought Republicans and Democrats together to enact reforms and who is running on a reform agenda of improving schools and cutting taxes, we think that will resonate -- strengthening the military, rebuilding America`s stature in the world and saving and strengthening Social Security and Medicare. We expect that will resonate in Virginia.

And we`re also very optimistic about California. California in many ways is similar to Texas. Governor Bush has proven here in Texas that he can reach out. He won record numbers of Hispanic voters, record numbers of women, record numbers of African-Americans.
And so he has proven that he can unite the Republican Party and reach out beyond.

Schieffer: All right. Let me ask you a little bit about Pat Robertson. There`s no question that he and his conservative Christian friends helped you a great deal in South Carolina. But now even some of your supporters say that hurt you in Michigan. I have heard reports from various campaign aides that you have asked Pat Robertson to stop making telephone calls. Is that in fact true?

Hughes: Bob, I`ve seen the same reports. I do not know the answer to that. I do know that our campaign did not in any way coordinate with Pat Robertson on the calls that he made in Michigan. He obviously has very strong feelings about Senator McCain.

But Bob, there are a number of third parties involved in this Republican pimary. And in Michigan, Senator McCain worked closely with active partisan Democrats. In fact, his campaign paid for a mailing, unheard of in a Republican presidential contest, in which the Republican candidate, Senator McCain, encouraged partisan Democrats to go into the Republican primary for a day and then they could go right back to their partisan Democrat activity. As we head towards Super Tuesday, that`s not going to be able to happen. The Democrats are going to have to stay home in their own party and not make mischief in the Republican primary.

Schieffer: Well, we can talk about that in just a minute. But let me go back to my original question. Did you tell me you don`t know whether your campaign has asked Pat Robertson to stop making telephone calls on the governor`s behalf?

Hughes: No, I do -- I do not know that. Governor Bush -- those are Pat Robertson`s words. He made those calls independently. It was an independent expenditure. It would be illegal for us to have coordinated in any way and we did not do so.

Schieffer: But it wouldn`t be illegal for you to tell him to stop.

Hughes: No, it would not, Bob, but I do not know that that has occurred.

Gloria Borger, U.S. News & World Report: Ms. Hughes, this week, conservative Bill Bennett -- who we`re going to have on later in this show -- said, and let me quote, "that John McCain is a better bet for winning the presidency." What`s your reaction to that?

Hughes: Well, Gloria, I strongly disagree. You don`t -- the recipe for a Republican to win in November is not by adopting the Democrat`s philosophy on key issues like tax cuts and education reforms. If John McCain went up against Al Gore, it wouldn`t be a debate; it would look like a ticket. They agree on those issues, on campaign finance reform where they would both leave a huge union loophole.

Governor Bush -- the key to winning in November and the key to what Governor Bush has done here in Texas is to run on a conservative, compassionate philosophy that is able to unite the Republican Party and then reach out to independents and Democrats. That`s exactly what Governor Bush did here in Texas. You don`t win in Texas with almost 70 percent of the vote unless you appeal to wide numbers of Democrats and independents. And that`s what Governor Bush has done and that`s what he intends to do when he earns the Republican nomination.

Borger: But after South Carolina, hasn`t Governor Bush kind of gotten boxed in here as the candidate of the right as compared to the compassionate conservative he started out as?

Hughes: Well, Gloria, let me remind you that in South Carolina Governor Bush did not take new positions on any social issues. He has been consistent in his conservative philosophy. He is a pro-life governor, he is a reform governor who has reformed schools, reformed welfare, cut taxes, and that`s what he talkeabout in South Carolina.

Schieffer: All right, Karen, we`re going to leave it there. I thank you very much for being with us. Good luck in Virginia and in California.

And now we`re going to get the other side of the story, as they say, from Mike Murphy, who`s the chief strategist for the McCain campaign.

Well, how do you feel about your chances, Mike, in Virginia?

Mike Murphy, McCain Campaign Strategist: Well, we have the momentum. There is no question at all that McCain is moving up so we`re excited. But we had a long way to go in Virginia. We started out way behind. Governor Bush is increasingly becoming a regional candidate, playing very well in the South and nowhere else. No doubt with the Gilmore organization and the Christian Right and Pat Robertson kind of waving the blowtorch around he`s got some advantages there but we`re catching up. It`s going to be a close one. We may catch him; we may not. But over all we really like our momentum. We love how New England looks. We think we`re surging in New York and we`re going to be competitive in California.
Schieffer: But doesn`t Karen Hughes have a point in that John McCain doesn`t seem to be attracting very many core Republicans. Why haven`t you been able to do that?

Murphy: Well I`m -- one, I`m not so sure that`s true. There`s a new study in Time magazine based on the exit polling and Bob Teeter in The Washington Post today both saying there may be more Republican vote behind McCain than people thought.

But there`s no question the party establishment, which fears McCain, has tried to fool rank-and-file voters about him because they don`t like campaign finance reform.

When you look at the record, McCain is a rock-ribbed Reagan conservative. In fact, we`re making the case that he is a better fiscal conservative than Governor Bush because when you look at spending, McCain is so tough on pork barrel spending and so tough on Washington spending in general, while Governor Bush has overseen a 36 percent increase in state spending. That`s almost twice the rate of federal spending under Clinton.

So we`re taking that case to Republicans that McCain is a conservative who can win. I mean, we`re tired of losing in the Republican Party. Do we want Al Gore and Speaker Gephardt or do we want to win with a guy who has this new Reagan coalition of conservative Democrats, independents and Republicans?

We think that message is going to work and we`re going to win primaries.

Borger: There is a new poll out today which says that in California -- there`s a Time magazine poll -- that George Bush beats McCain 48 to 23 percent among Republicans. So what`s going to happen in California?

Murphy: I actually think we`re going to win the California primary. That poll is fascinating because it shows, as you said, Gloria, that we`re behind with Republicans. It also shows we kill ore in the general election. And I think that as the focus next week gets to California and we`re out there campaigning, people are going to want a conservative who can win. I`ve seen other polls that show it an eight or nine point race. Tough to poll primaries, all we can do is take our message of conservative reform out there and work hard.

Schieffer: Let me just ask you something, Karen Hughes just said that a debate between McCain and Gore wouldn`t look like a debate, it would look like a ticket, that they have the same positions on everything. What`s your response to that?

Murphy: I think that`s more -- the worse it gets for Bush, the crazier their spin becomes. The truth is, as Senator McCain likes to say, he would beat Al Gore like a drum. He would stand there and say Senator, excuse me, Vice President Gore, what you and Bill Clinton did is wrong. You want controlling ethical and legal authority, I`m going to give you one. I`m going to make what you guys did illegal. I`m going to clean up this campaign finance system. It would be a marvelous debate. We`d win it and we`d have a landslide.

Schieffer: Let me ask you also about some telephone calls. I asked her about some of the calls that Pat Robertson made on behalf of Governor Bush. It turns out now that there were calls made on behalf of Senator McCain that suggested that George Bush was anti-Catholic. Senator McCain first said no, I don`t know anything about that, didn`t have anything to do with it. Now he says he did know about it. How do you unravel this?

Murphy: I`d love to talk about it. First I think the big winner in Michigan might have been the phone company because so many calls were being made from all sides.

But what happened was in South Carolina the Bush campaign, after losing New Hampshire, went viciously negative on television, on the phones and everywhere else. In Michigan, Pat Robertson started making these automated calls, clearly, I think, through Ralph Reed hooked up with the Bush campaign. I can`t prove that but it appears obvious, smearing Senator McCain.

What our campaign did was put out a pro-McCain call that pointed attention to the fact that Governor Bush when he visited Bob Jones University didn`t condemn them despite their long history of anti-Catholic statements and their crazy policy banning interracial dating. That`s what the call said. It didn`t call anybody a bigot. It did attack Bob Jones and pointed out that Bush was silent and pointed out that McCain wouldn`t have been.

Schieffer: Mike, why did Senator McCain first say he didn`t know anything about it and later said, well, he did authorize the calls.

Murphy: Well, the truth is, he doesn`t get into the weeds of all the campaign tactics. I think it was our spokesman who said he wasn`t sure. When he got in the loop later, we talked to the media and we explained exactly what the call is. And we didn`t o this Texas two- step that the Bush campaign does, pretending they had never heard of Pat Robertson, when his chief aide, Ralph Reed, is one of their key strategists. I mean, come on, we all need to have a little straight talk here.

We made a positive pro-McCain call that did point out the Bob Jones controversy. We said nothing in that call we don`t say in speeches every day. While they put out this hateful Robertson call they`re now pretending they had nothing to do with it.

Borger: But very quickly, straight talk: When did McCain know about these calls?

Murphy: The truth is, I`m not sure when. He knew that we were doing pro-Catholic advocacy and we knew we were taking the same Bob Jones argument and we were using it with voters. I don`t know the details of exactly who and what, but the campaign made it very clear: Yes, we put out a Catholic voter alert and we may do it again.

Schieffer: All right, Mike Murphy. We stop right there. Thank you very much

Murphy: Thank you.

Schieffer: and good luck to you as well.

Well, joining us now is Bill Bennett, who is a strong voice on the conservative right, I would say.

And I must say, Mr. Bennett, you kind of stirred things up in Republican circles this week when you told Gloria Borger here that you now think that John McCain is the best bet for the Republicans come November to beat Al Gore. Why did you say that and why did you decide to share that with everybody at this point?

William Bennett, conservative writer and former Education Secretary: Well, based on the numbers. I mean, obviously anything can happen still, and no one knows for sure. But based on the laws of arithmetic, the laws of mathematics, for Republicans to win a general election they have to add to their ranks. Which of the candidates at the present time adds more to the ranks? I don`t think there`s any question about it.

It`s true George Bush is turning out a lot of Republicans and we get a bigger turnout virtually everywhere, but John McCain is getting just an avalanche of support from independents and Democrats.

Now some of that Democrat support you might interpret cynically, that is, you know, some Democratic effort to embarrass John Engler or George Bush. But I think a lot of those Democrats and independents are looking for an excuse not to vote for Al Gore, and John McCain is the excuse.

So I think right now, looking at the numbers, I think one would have to say that.

Borger: You`ve just heard this controversy over these phone calls in Michigan that were placed by people on behalf of the McCain campaign, you`ve heard what Mike Murphy has said about it. What`s your reaction here vis-a-vis Mr. McCain`s responsibility?

Bennett: You know, you`ve to live up to your standards that you have set. If you call yourself a compassionate conservative, then I think it`s a problem to go to Bob Jones. y the way, that`s the difficulty. It wasn`t that a whole bunch of other people had gone to Bob Jones. George Bush said: I`m a different kind of conservative.

Similarly, if you call yourself the Straight Talk Express, you`d better talk straight. And I don`t think this was straight talk, and I think John McCain needs to straighten this out. According to The New York Times, he said he didn`t know about these calls, a day or two later that he did know about these calls.

Now, you know, if he`s going to be the shoot-from-the-hip candid guy, no Texas two-step, then he`s got to clear it up.

Schieffer: You be the analyst here. Where do you see this race going now? Where does it need to go?

Bennett: Well, it`ll be very interesting to see what happens in Virginia -- which was your first question today -- because if McCain wins Virginia or does very well in Virginia, that`s going to be a very serious matter, because one of the arguments that`s been made is that Bush is strong in the South but nowhere else. If he is not strong in Virginia, that is going to be a problem.

Republicans among themselves now, Bob, are talking and saying: supposing we have the situation where we`re headed to a George Bush win in the primary but John McCain is our best bet to beat Al Gore. Well, what do you love the most? You know, what matters the most to you? A certain position on an issue or beating Al Gore?

We will then, I think, have a real debate about who`s the real conservative -- who`s the more conservative. And I think things can be said on both sides.

Let me tell you one very good thing for the party. I talked to Jim Nicholson this week, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Turn out, lots of people are turning out, and this is very good for the Republican Party. Those who are regretting -- like John Engler -- what happened in Michigan have to remember that the purpose of this thing was to get people to pull Republican levers and they`re doing that.

I`m puzzled -- just one thing that puzzles me: George Bush is a, I think, tremendously impressive guy. When I met him, I was very impressed. This campaign has not been effective. This is a lot more effective guy than this campaign has shown.

Borger: Who is the more conservative candidate?

Bennett: Well, I think it -- I think it all depends. McCain, I think, can make a pretty good case in regard to things like regulation and spending. And I understand he`s been opposed consistently to the arts endowment, which has been an old conservative issue. I don`t think we`ve heard Governor Bush talk to that. Governor Bush has, obviously, the tax issue.

I don`t think, by the way, it works to say that Gore and McCain would sound like the same ticket. John McCain is pro-life, he`s pro-gun. This is not the Gore ticket.

Borger: What happens in the Republican Party if you get to that California primar-- which is kind of a crazy thing -- because you could possibly win the popular vote there, but if you lose among Republicans, you don`t get the delegates. So it`s conceivable that you could have John McCain winning the popular vote and George Bush getting the delegates. What happens then?

Bennett: I don`t know, but I`ll tell you I`m very pleased that we are the interesting party. This is very un-Republican, what we`re doing.

But it`s a serious matter. If George Bush were to win the Republicans and get the delegates and McCain were to win big and he could beat everybody in California, he could come in first of four, you`re going to have a serious debate inside the party about what to do.

Schieffer: What does George Bush need to do about Pat Robertson at this point?

Bennett: I think he needs to say that the way they handled the Bob Jones thing was a mistake. And I think he needs to send a pretty clear message about Robertson`s support. He welcomes the support of anyone but he doesn`t want the kind of bile that was coming out in South Carolina used in his behalf, as McCain must say the same thing as well. There has been low-ball here on both sides. It doesn`t help the party particularly. Otherwise, we are being helped dramatically by this very interesting race, which takes a different turn every day.

Schieffer: All right. We`ll leave it there, Bill. Thank you very much. When we come back, we`re going to turn our attention to the Democratic race. There is one out there. And we`re going to talk with candidate Bill Bradley who is out in Washington in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Schieffer: Well, joining us now, from Seattle, Washington, Bill Bradley, who`s challenging Al Gore for the Democratic nomination.

Well, Senator Bradley, you don`t get -- often have a chance to sit down and listen to a bunch of Republicans for a while as you have this morning. I wonder do you have any comment on what you`ve just heard?

Bill Bradley, Democratic Candidate For President: They sounded like Republicans, that`s for sure, arguing about which one is more conservative than the other.

Schieffer: Let me ask you this question: You have a big primary coming up in California, where there are a lot of delegates at stake, and yet I`m told you`re going to spend most of this week out in Washington state, where basically the Democratic contest is just a beauty contest -- no delegates at stake. Why are you doing that?

Bradley: Well, actually, Bob, it`s more than that, because I`m running against entrenched power all across the country. Washington state is the same. The delegates will be selected a week later. If can I do well in the primary, on Tuesday, I think it will help me with delegates on -- the week later here in Washington and also across the country.

We`re making a real effort. I am the reform candidate in this race. And I think ashington state is open to that. I think the rest of the country is yearning to have someone come to Washington like a clear mountain stream, and clean out the corruption that`s there and change the way things are done. And that`s what my candidacy offers.

It also offers a candidacy that`s actually truer to Democratic principles than the vice president`s. When you look at issues as diverse as health care, access to affordable care for all Americans, education, making sure that any federal dollars go to a school, there`s a qualified teacher in that school, and also making sure we have registration and licensing of all handguns.

So I`m the reform candidate. By far the greater reform candidate, because I don`t think the vice president can wear that mantle given what happened in 1996 with the fund-raising scandals. And I`m also truer to Democratic principles.

Borger: Senator, if you lose in Washington state though, what happens to your campaign?

Bradley: We move on to March 7. There are no delegates selected on February 29 here. March 7 will be the delegate day. We`re, of course, here because we think it will help us with delegates on the 7th of March. It`s not determined, but we`re making progress here and I think we`ll be fighting on all the states on March 7. Our television is just going up. It`s going to be, I think, a real race.

Borger: Is the fact that the John McCain campaign has generated so much coverage really hurt your candidacy? You`re running as a reformer. You`ve just said he`s the reformer people seem to be paying a lot of attention to.

Bradley: Well, you know, the people who are interested in reform are often independents. And it`s true John McCain and I are the reformers in the race. I`m the Democratic reformer. He`s the Republican reformer.

But with me, the independents get reform plus. I mean there are real differences between John McCain and I, as the earlier conversation illustrated. I`m pro-choice; he is not. I`m pro-gun control; he is not. I want to protect the environment; he has a bad record. I`m making a major investment in education and health care, and he doesn`t make any. I think that there`s a difference here, so when independent voters look at our two candidacies separately and say, "Other than reform, where do we want to take this country?" I think I offer a stronger appeal to independents across the country.

Borger: Do you believe that John McCain could beat Al Gore?

Bradley: I think it would be very difficult for Al Gore to beat John McCain on one level because he is the reform candidate, and Al Gore cannot be the reform candidate. John McCain has said he`s going to beat Al Gore like a drum on the 1996 fund-raising scandals. I think that that makes it very difficult for Al Gore to be able to get independent voters.

And as I look at the fall campaign, clearly I could beat John McCain. I believe I could bat George Bush. I think Al will have very great difficulty with John McCain, because he cannot get rid of the background of the 1996 fund-raising scandals that will be there to haunt him throughout the fall and prevent him from being able to focus on the real differences between Republicans and Democrats on the areas of education, health, gun control and the other things that I think are winners for the Democratic Party. I`m the only person running who could do that who`s been consistent on all those issues.

Schieffer: Senator, let me ask you a news question here, because you have made race the centerpiece, or one of the main parts of your campaign. We just had this verdict come down in New York, the Diallo case, where the policemen who shot this unarmed man 41 times were found not guilty. Are you satisfied with the verdict, number one; and number two, do you think the Justice Department ought to intervene in this?

Bradley: Well, Bob, I was stunned by the verdict. I think that what it says is how deep racial profiling has pervaded this country. And it shows how a wallet in the hands of a white man looks like a wallet, but a wallet in the hands of a black man looks like a gun. And I think that`s the main point that is made by this.

I`ve heard from any number of African-Americans over my lifetime that they`ve been put in the same position, surrounded by police officers with guns and most of them kept their hands up. But if one of them had, by chance, reached in his wallet to try to show what the identification was, he could have ended up like Amadou Diallo.

I think that it`s a real tragedy. And I`m glad that the Justice Department is looking into it now.

Schieffer: And you think they ought to intervene in a formal way?

Bradley: Well, I think they ought to look into it to gather information to be able to make that decision.

Schieffer: All right, Senator Bradley, we have to leave it there. Thank you very much, and also our very best wishes and good luck to you.

Bradley: Thank you so much, Bob.

Schieffer: I`ll be back with a final word in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Schieffer: Finally today, we have been talking about it, but can you believe how many people are voting in these primaries? Nearly 100,000 more in New Hampshire than last time, nearly twice as many in South Carolina, almost three times as many as four years ago in Michigan.

And I`ll tell you something else. I`ve been in all the primary states and Iowa, too, and the headline for me is, people are voting because they are really enjoying these elections. Everywhere I went, people were talking politics, speculating, arguing, caught up in the excitement.

Part of it has to be the good times. Part of it has to be new faces on the scenes.

But I`m wondering if another reason is that a good, hard-fought contest like this one has just made poltics fun again, fun to talk about, like it used to be, and that`s a change.

With Capitol Hill mired in rancor and partisan gridlock and that other little matter at the White House in recent years, politics has been so uninteresting, you didn`t want to talk about it, and so seamy, you hesitated to bring it up in front of the kids.

But these primaries have changed the subject. I have no idea who will get the nomination in either party, but people are talking politics again and I like it like that.

That`s our broadcast. We`ll see you next week right here on Face The Nation.

(END)

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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