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Ask Scott Reed

1996 Dole Presidential Campaign Chairman Scott Reed has the answers to your questions. He has a unique insider’s view of the Presidential campaign process. Veteran CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante brings a top political expert into the Smoke-Filled Room each week to answer your questions.

Plante: Our first viewer R. Chad Davis asks “Who do you think Vice President Gore and Governor Bush will choose for their running mates?”

Reed: Well I believe Bush will make a safe pick. Picks someone that will help him with the base of the party. Someone that he knows and trusts and someone that will not disrupt the convention. Thus he will go with Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma. If Bush goes with Keating, Gore will take a good hard look at the electoral college and probably attempt to get the state of Florida in play. If Republicans are denied Florida’s twenty-five electoral votes it’s very difficult for a Republican to get to 270 and win. So I think Gore will take a good look at Senator Graham who’s very popular, and combined with a few specific issues like cleaning up the Everglades and frightening senior citizens about Medicare, I believe Gore could Florida into a competitive state very quickly.

Plante: As a follow-up, who would be your choices and why?

Reed: I think Bush has run a brilliant campaign to date. But now this election really boils down to the Midwest states. I would advocate a safe choice for V.P., like a Keating or a Hagel to not disrupt the coalition he’s put together. I base that on the fact that people vote the top of the ticket. The Vice President story is usually a 72-hour story and then the American people either decide if it was a good choice or a poor choice, and they move on. I would play it safe; pick someone who won’t rock the boat and back to those mid-western battleground states where this thing is going to be won.

On Gore’s side, I’d probably go Graham, but I’d also take a good look at Senator Kerry from Massachusetts. Gore’s problems to date is that he appears to be the Gumby candidate where he just flops around every three days with a different strategy and a different message and a different group of tactics. Kerry adds a lot of gravities to the Democratic Party. He’s obviously strong on foreign policy and I think his presence would help Gore, and stiffen up Gore’s campaign a lot. Granted, the Democrats are going to do well in Massachusetts and probably most of New England, but I believe Kerry has the potential to reach beyond his regional base and help Gore across the country.

Plante: ”What exactly is vetting?” asks Belinda. “How much information, and what kind, is needed?”

Reed: Vetting is a little overrated in this business. If a corpoation seeks a CEO or CFO they vet them because it’s a very broad process.

Plante: Want to give us a quick definition of the term?

Reed: Doing background research on possible candidates that involves health records, financial records, family records, employment history and political issues – voting records and public statements. The reason it’s different in politics is that most of these folks are fairly well known. We know each other. We’ve followed each other’s careers. There are very few surprises. If a candidate can run for national office he or she usually gets vetted by the national media automatically. So it’s only if you were to choose somebody who either hadn’t run for President or hadn’t been elected to office would there be a real need to do a thorough vetting job. It usually revolves around business relations and how folks make a living.

Plante: Don writes, “I understand you were Dole’s Presidential campaign chairman. If you could change one thing you did during that campaign, what would it be?”

Reed: That’s a very good question. I would better recognize how difficult it is to run a campaign in an environment where the economy is growing and there is great prosperity. At times I got stuck in the forest and didn’t see the trees. Not only that we were up against Clinton who is a great communicator, and a guy who would pretty much say or do anything every day, to win the day, but I didn’t fully recognize the magnitude of how difficult it is running in a full economy. We needed to go outside of the box a little more than we did.

Plante: Is that going to be a similar problem in this race?

Reed: I think it continues to be a huge challenge for Republicans. Even though Bush is a breath of fresh air and an outsider, someone who wants to bring bipartisanship to Washington, and is unable to allow the Democrats the wrath of a Republican Congress wrapped around his neck, which was wrapped around Bob Dole’s neck and tightened every day. It’s still very difficult in an economy which is growing, where unemployment is still down and people are, well you know there’s a whole generation now which has lived for seven or eight years in a booming economy and don’t remember tough time, don’t even remember the early eighties.

Plante: That plays into our next question. T.M.V. wants to know “What differences can we expect in George W.’s campaign vs. his father’s?”

Reed: George W. Bush has run a very issues oriented campaign since he locked up the nomination. I believe that’s one of the reasons he’s done so well. He’s gone out and laid out a number of thorough and thoughtful policy ideas that have helped him maintain a lead in the polls, and helped him put some real meat on his bones as a national canddate. Believe it or not, going into these conventions, pollsters are telling these campaigns that their candidates are still unknown – that people really don’t know a whole lot about George W. Bush.

If you look at the internals of a poll, as I have recently, of Bush supporters, the number one reason they support George W. revolves around his father. A full fifteen percent will say his father, his father’s policies, his family. Just pure name recognition. Bush’s need over the last few months was to go out and put some policy initiatives behind his candidacy. I think he’s done that very well. He set up his campaign, and the terms of the debate for his campaign to be around reducing tax rates, reforming social security, bringing accountability to education and developing a missile defense system.

Gore, on the other hand has had a more difficult time. I really can’t put my hands on what Gore’s campaign strategy is right now. It’s adjusted every couple of weeks. He’s now in a tear-down Texas mode, which I think is a little thin. If Gore can have the election based on gun control and abortion rights and saving social security without reform, Gore will get a lot of votes.

Plante: Now here’s an interesting question. ”If you were setting up a debate for George W. who would you get to play Al Gore in practice sessions and why?” Lois is curious.

Reed: When we helped Kemp set up in his debate against Al Gore we chose Judd Gregg, Senator from New Hampshire, former Governor to play Al Gore and he did a very good job. I believe I’ve read that he’s been chosen already to help Bush. Gregg would be my first choice based on experience. I would pick someone like Gregg from the Senate, who is calm, very smart and very direct in his questioning. Gore’s biggest challenge in these debates is not to overshoot the runway. Not to come across as to mean and talking down his nose. He does that a lot. It’s why he has fairly high unfavorable ratings. Gore has a real gender gap – and it’s with men. Men are turned off by him. The whole gender gap issue of the eighties and nineties has switched from Republicans having a deficit with women to Gore having a deficit with men.

Plante: ”Do you think the so-called “Clinton fatigue factor” will help or hurt Al Gore?” questions Ted.

Where there's smoke, is there fire? Sound off on the Campaign 2000 bulletin board!

Reed: The “Clinton fatigue factor” has helped Bush incredibly over the last year. Both social conservative and economic conservatives have rallied around Bush’s candidacy earlier and with more vigor than ever before. There’s a great distaste for Clinton in the right wing of the Republican party, and Gore is just seen as an extension of Clinton’s eight years.

At the end of the day, I think Clinton will be Gore’s campaign manager and campaign strategist. That is a huge asset for Gore. Clinton is not only brilliant when it comes to politics and the electoral college, (by the way Clinton is recommending they pick Graham of Florida because he recognizes the value of Florida in the electoral college – that been reported) but Clinton is also in a great position by being in the Oval Office and being able to use the White House as a bully pulpit to move issues. There have been many times when Gore has gone out and talked about a certain issue and within the same news cycle Clinton has reinforced it from the White House. It has guaranteed it to make the evening news. He can also go out (this is Clinton) and pick a fight with the Republican Congress. You’re going to see a lot of that in the next six or eight weeks which helps Gore. He can pick a fight with the Republican nominee – Bush. He can also pick fights with some of the interest groups on the Republican side like the NRA and inflame an issue in 48 hours which Gore can’t do.

Plante: Michael writes “What do you think the odds are that the Republicans will keep their leads in the House and Senate?”

Reed: The House and the Senate are totally different when it comes to a national election. House elections, I believe, are a lot more tied to the national ticket. They’re a lot more local – tied to the candidates, candidate recruitment, money. There are about 33 districts that are real competitive this cycle. Twenty-three, per my analysis, are Republican, ten of them are Democrat. We’re having to defend twice as many seats.

In the Senate there are not as many big swings – there were back in ’80 – but there haven’t been since. Republicans have a good opportunity to hold onto the Senate. They will probably lose a net of one, maybe two seats, but they’ll till be the majority.

Whereas the House is lot more of a crapshoot now. The outcome of states like California have a greater impact on the House than people think. If the Bush campaign is unable to mount an aggressive campaign in California due to budgetary reasons, which is a real reason, we could lose four or five House seats, just in California.

Plante: ”How much of issue do you think abortion will play in this election?” asks Mary Ann.

Reed: I think Bush has done a very good job of de-fanging the abortion issue so far in this campaign. Back in 1997 or ’98 in Texas he came out for a parental rights notification bill that was passed and was a very strong signal to social conservative not to be scared of George W. Bush. The chatter on the platform has been minimal to date. The Republican Party platform will not change – it will still be a pro-life platform.

Plante: And our final viewer J. Dan Allen wants to know “What is your prediction on the presidential election?”

Reed: Bush wins in a squeaker.

About Bill Plante
Bill Plante is a three-time Emmy Award winner who joined the CBS News Washington Bureau in 1976. He has been covering national elections since 1968. In 1984, he was part of a CBS News team that captured an Emmy for coverage of Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign. Plante is one of the most knowledgeable and respected political correspondents in Washington. (He'll do just about anything, including bungee jumping, to get a good story.)

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