Pundit Central

Rats to Dubya

Issue 1 is the presidential race, including George W. Bush’s allegedly subliminal TV ad. Issue 2 is the Hillary Clinton-Rick Lazio debate. Issue 3 is the Clinton administration’s handling of the Wen Ho Lee case.

Sam Donaldson (ABC’s This Week) notes that two former tossup states, Pennsylvania and Iowa, are now leaning to Al Gore. And two more solidly Bush states, Louisiana and Ohio, are becoming tossups, he says. George Stephanopoulos (TW) identifies three competitive states where Gore has double-digit leads–Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania–and remarks, “If those [poll numbers] hold up, Bush can’t win.” On the McLaughlin Group, Mort Zuckerman predicts that Bush will lose both Pennsylvania and Florida. (As if to hasten the latter possibility, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta tells Fox News Sunday that it was a mistake for President Clinton to have shaken Fidel Castro’s hand at a recent United Nations summit.) And George F. Will (TW) admits that Bush should abandon his California campaign and cede the state to Gore. In Bush’s favor, Kate O’Beirne (CNN’s Capital Gang) notes that a national poll of “likely voters” has Bush with a six-point lead.

What accounts for Gore’s continuing success? Stephanopoulos faults Bush for running as a centrist in the primaries and as a conservative in the general election–the opposite of a typical winning strategy. Mark Shields (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) argues that picking Joe Lieberman as his running mate allowed Gore to satisfy both independent voters (who admire Lieberman for his centrist record and for having denounced President Clinton’s adultery) and liberals (who admire Gore for picking a Jew). Will argues that Bush can win on the issues by emphasizing that Gore’s proposed supplement to Medicare is a giveaway from working families (i.e., middle-aged wage earners) to the rich (the elderly). Paul Gigot (NH) stresses that if Bush doesn’t win the debate over taxes, he won’t win the election. Both Gigot and Democratic National Committee Chair Ed Rendell (CG) agree that Bush’s best opportunity to reverse Gore’s momentum is the debates.

How much was Bush hurt by allegations that one of his TV ads uses subliminal messages? Most pundits–including liberals like Shields (CG) and Eleanor Clift (MG)–think that the story was oversold but damaged Bush nonetheless. John McLaughlin sees a conspiracy behind the story: Because Bush called the New York Times’ Adam Clymer an “asshole” on camera several weeks ago, Clymer got the Times to play up the subliminal-message story as revenge.

Analyzing the Hillary-Lazio debate, the pundits split along ideological lines. Most liberals–like Zuckerman and James Carville (NBC’s Meet the Press)–think that Lazio’s aggressiveness turned off voters, especially women. Most conservatives–like O’Beirne, Lawrence Kudlow (MG), Tony Blankley (MG), Mary Matalin (MTP), and Bob Novak (CG)–think Lazio’s offensive strategy put to rest any doubts about his ability to represent New York’s interests in the Senate. Both Carville and Al Hunt (CG) argue that by downplaying upstate New York’s economic pains, Lazio may lose votes.

Most pundits criticize the Clinton administration for its imprisonment of suspected spy Wen Ho Lee. If the government now admits that there is not much evidence against Lee, Stephanopoulos asks, why did it keep him in solitary confinement for 10 months? Other pundits–like Hunt, O’Beirne, and Novak–ridicule President Clinton for publicly criticizing Reno only after Lee’s release from prison.

Egos Big and Small

During his panel’s discussion of the GOP’s allegedly subliminal ad, John McLaughlin has his producers flash “GENIUS” for a split second whenever McLaughlin himself appears on camera. … Paul Gigot does something rare for a pundit–admit he was wrong. Gigot says that Gore is more personally popular than he once thought possible.(See “Last Words,” below.)

But Can He Handle Imus?

We’re out there talking about positive issues, and the American people like what Al Gore is saying, and they like Al Gore–Al Gore on Letterman hit a home run, a home run.–DNC Chair Ed Rendell (CG)

Reno: “Pathetic Old Woman”

Janet Reno is a disaster. She was a poor appointment, she is a pathetic old woman. I feel sorry for her because she’s ill, but she gets these terrible cases all the way from Waco to this [the Lee case], and she says, “Well, we’ve acted on the basis of the law and the evidence.” She never says anything, and she gets a soft press out of it. She’s a disgrace.–Bob Novak (CG)

Last Words

Well, certainly I was wrong earlier this summer in thinking that Al Gore, some of his negative ratings, his personal ratings, the fact that people didn’t like him very much were harder, more fixed than they have turned out to be. Al Gore has achieved something I didn’t think he could do this fast, which was to change his personal rating so quickly.–Paul Gigot (NH)