Issue 1 is the ever-tightening presidential contest. Issue 2 is the debate over debates.
Most pundits agree: The race is tied and either major candidate can win. ( The McLaughlin Group’s Tony Blankley says that the race has been even all along, but the media has been fabricating drama by exaggerating polling trends.) Several GOP politicians, such as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge ( Fox News Sunday), frankly admit their surprise at Gore’s rock-solid post-convention bounce but profess confidence in their candidate. Bob Novak (CNN’s Capital Gang) says that the GOP powers-that-be have lost faith in Bush but that Bush is a more resilient politician than party leaders give him credit for. Most pundits attribute Gore’s surge to 1) his independence and focus on policy at the convention; and 2) the backfiring of repeated GOP attacks on Gore’s ethics and on Clinton’s character.
Pollsters John Zogby (CBS’s Face the Nation) and Bill Schneider (CNN’s Late Edition) point to the women’s vote as the key election constituency. Gore, who for months trailed Bush in support among women, now leads by a huge margin. What happened? Most pundits attribute it to Gore’s focus on “safety net” issues–such as Social Security, education, and Medicare. Brit Hume (FNS) and Bill Bennett (LE and NBC’s Meet the Press) predict that Gore will eventually pay an electoral price for this rampant government spending, but others aren’t so sure. Juan Williams (FNS) argues that in the crucial Midwestern swing states, Gore’s safety-net message trumps Bush’s tax-cut message. Several conservative pundits, such as Paul Gigot (FTN and PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) and David Gergen (MTP), think that Bush can win on women’s issues like partial-birth abortion and school choice. (To read about the strange cult of John Zogby, click here.)
Most talking heads think that Bush shot himself in the foot by refusing to participate in three debates sponsored by a nonpartisan commission. (Bush backed down from his refusal on Friday.) Even conservatives sympathetic to Bush’s alternative debate proposal–such as Paul Gigot, Bill Bennett, and Bob Novak–agree that 1) sidestepping the official debates, no matter how justified, made Bush look like a coward; and 2) Bush needs to debate more, not less, to overcome his image as a lightweight. David Gergen argues that Bush may be able to turn the campaign back into a personality contest if he can make Gore look technocratic and defensive on television. Mark Shields (NH and CG) and Paula Zahn (FNS) add that by contesting the commission’s debate plan, Bush diverted media attention from his prescription-drug proposal. (To read Slate’s William Saletan on why Bush had a point about the debates, click here.)
Obscene Talk Express
MARGARET CARLSON (CG): There was a poll taken saying that 7 percent of people actually raised their opinion of Bush as a result of that statement [about a reporter being an “asshole”].
GOP NATIONAL CO-CHAIR PAT HARRISON: A lot of people who called me thought it was straight talk.
I went out to testify in front of the Ways and Means Committee out in Congress on open free trade to China. Now, this would affect literally every Minnesotan in some way or another, if not all Americans in some way or another–I think it’s the biggest thing of this century really to this point. The local media sent no one out to cover my testimony. They used stringers, which are locals that’ll step in and kind of do a job, you know, cover it more vaguely. Well, then a couple weeks later, I go out to do The Young and the Restless, the TV soap opera, and everybody sends crews. We had to move them into a room in three different sections or three shifts of them because there was so much media covering that.–Gov. Jesse Ventura, I-Minn. (MTP)