McCain meltdown! Oops, never mind

The Bush campaign plays up a McCain "incident", Al "take no prisoners" Gore doesn't know when to stop beating a dead man and gun play enters the New York Senate race with Charlton Heston and Sean "Puffy" Combs playing supporting roles. [ UPDATED ]

Published March 1, 2000 8:59PM (EST)

The frenzy of modern media-driven campaigns has forced campaign press flacks to be hyper aware of every little thing that happens on the campaign trail and tip off reporters when a potential news bit breaks, hoping beyond hope that they will seize upon the next big thing. For every one that sticks, there are a hundred that don't.

One such flare ignited Tuesday evening on the John McCain bus caravan, when this reporter received a call from a Bush campaign spokesperson talking about how McCain had an apparent meltdown on Michael Reagan's syndicated radio talk show, hanging up on Reagan when the debate got too contentious. This was the mythical, mercurial McCain the Bush campaign had been hoping would rear his ugly head.

Within microseconds, the Bush campaign blasted an e-mail to political reporters, titled: "Subject: JOHN McCAIN LECTURES MICHAEL REAGAN ON NATIONWIDE RADIO."

Reporters seized on McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky who publicly scoffed at the reports, then quickly placed a phone call to the Straight Talk Express to find out what in the hell had happened.

Turns out McCain was conducting the interview via cell phone, before the bus veered out of range. He did not hang up on Reagan, they were simply disconnected.

Within minutes, the Bush campaign conceded that perhaps the item was not as hot as they had originally hoped. But in a gallant demonstration of poise, Bush California spokeswoman Margita Thompson quickly joked: "So now your headline is 'McCain veers out of range in California.'" (By Anthony York)

Gore: No Prisoners

Though rumors of the immediate demise of the Bradley campaign have been put to rest (a Washington rumor had the former New Jersey senator pulling out of the race on Wednesday), most polls still have Gore with double-digit leads over the former Knick in almost every Super Tuesday primary state. Thus, the official media execution of Bradley's quest hasn't been stayed as much as it's been put off a week.

Vice President Al Gore, however, continues to kick Bradley, despite the fact that everyone but those in Bradley's immediate circle of advisors seems to understand that the campaign is coughing up blood. Indeed, the Bradley campaign's last salvo seems to be a 5-minute commercial it purchased on CBS for Thursday night, at 10:55 p.m. EST -- a buzzer-beater of a ploy if there ever was one.

Nonetheless, on Tuesday afternoon, Gore's campaign sent out a press release hammering Bradley for a "no response" answer to an Associated Press questionnaire about Medicare. This because some Bradley campaign staffer forgot to fill out the AP questionnaire.

"When Bill Bradley was asked about Medicare at the outset of his campaign, he promised to address it in his health care plan," said Gore press secretary Chris Lehane. "He did not. When he was challenged about failing to invest a penny in the future of Medicare, his answer was that seniors should be exercising more. Today -- on the day of the Washington primary, a week from the March 7th national primary and two weeks before Super Tuesday -- his response on the issue of Medicare is 'no response.' Bill Bradley just doesn't get it. Medicare is a pillar of health care for millions of seniors. With the number of people on Medicare expected to double over the coming decades, we need to act now to protect the program. That's why Al Gore makes a major investment in the Medicare Trust Fund as part of his health plan."

Take a breath, Al. (By Jake Tapper)

Guns and stars compete with the Hillary and Rudy show

The Great New York Petty-Off continued Wednesday with a snipe-fest between
adversaries for the 2000 Senate race that dragged in entertainers named
Puffy and Chuck.

First, Hillary Rodham Clinton made some remarks about gun violence in the
wake of Tuesday's school shooting of a first-grader in Michigan. Then, the
campaign of her anticipated rival, Rudy Giuliani, slammed her for
"hypocrisy" because her campaign had accepted contributions from a
lite-rapper recently
charged with gun possession.

"She apparently sees no inconsistency" in talking about gun violence
while taking cash from Sean "Puffy" Combs, stated Friends of Giuliani
spokesperson KIim Serafin, referring to recently charges against
Combs for possession of a 9mm pistol following a shooting at a
Manhattan nightclub. "If Mrs. Clinton were really serious about gun
control, she would send the right message and return Mr. Combs'

Not to be outdone, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson
pointed out that Giuliani had himself accepted a $1,000 contribution
from National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston last
December. "We won't be lectured to by a campaign that's taken
money from the head of the NRA," said Wolfson. "It's unfortunate that on a
day of such tragedy, the Giuliani campaign would engage in hypocritical
attack politics."

Combs's girlfriend, calipygian singer-actress Jennifer Lopez, could
not be reached for comment. (By Jake Tapper)

Bush sweeps, McCain weeps

Going into Tuesday John McCain knew he didn't have a chance in the Virginia primary or the North Dakota caucus. In the former it was because the state has a large evangelical Christian audience (which he went a long way toward alienating with his dressing-down Monday of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell) and a sturdy Republican machine run by Gov. Jim Gilmore, who can deliver on his promises. In the latter it was because the state's caucus is dominated by Republican faithful.

But McCain was hoping for more from the left-coast bastion of Washington. He'd hoped to win in Washington despite losing in Virginia, thus prompting the question of whether George W. Bush might really be a viable candidate only below the Mason-Dixon line. This triple defeat makes the coming "Super Tuesday" primaries a must-win situation for McCain -- most of all in California, where quirky primary rules mean that he could win the popular vote but lose the Republican delegates.

Bill Bradley was also hoping for a miracle from Washington Tuesday. He devoted plenty of energy and money to the state, despite the fact that its primary doesn't deliver any delegates, in the hopes that it would give his campaign some momentum moving into Super Tuesday. Without that victory, he'll be hard-pressed to make his five-minute buy of national TV time Thursday matter.

Al Gore's team is preparing for what now appears to be the inevitable, his nomination at the national convention in Los Angeles in August. But that doesn't mean that it hasn't stopped plotting strategy. Gore's advisors are now deeply ensconced in the question of how they'll confront either candidate for the Republican nomination, especially in regard to the economy.

Bob Jones University responds

The one voice notably absent from the past three weeks of debate over Bush's appearance at Bob Jones University was the school itself. Well, the wait is over. BJU recently updated its Web site to address the matter of its place in the current GOP contest. "Isn't it really a compliment to Bob Jones University that the likes of John McCain, Al Gore, and Bill Bradley seethe and fulminate against us? Would we not be embarrassed if they, with their philosophies, spoke well of us?" The Web page also refers to Bradley, Gore and McCain as the political three tenors and provides an explanation of its ban on interracial dating.

Exit polls? I don't got no stinkin' exit polls

Ever wonder why all those anchor people are smirking when they tell you that the race is too close to call or use some other platitude to describe voting trends? Slate's Jack Shafer discusses why he's not publishing exit poll results anymore even though he has them in his hot little hands.

Robertson prefers Gore to McCain

The New York Post's Rod Dreher writes that an anonymous GOP official told him that Pat Robertson tried to strong-arm him into endorsing Bush with the argument that he'd "rather have a person in the White House like Al Gore, who I don't have to worry about offending, rather than have a man like John McCain."

Post leaning toward McCain?

The New York Post's columnists appear to be McCain people. In Wednesday's issue Dick Morris asks whether Bush will "steal" victory from McCain. Guy Molinari, a McCain advisor whose role in the campaign goes unacknowledged in the column, says that the true Republican choice is McCain. But they do have New York state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno endorsing Bush and James Larocca, New York state co-chair of Bradley's campaign, pulling for Bradley.

Bush opens Lincoln Bedroom South

The Associated Press reports that Bush hosted eight major fund-raisers in the governor's mansion, something closely akin to President Clinton hosting donors in the Lincoln Bedroom, a practice criticized by former President George Bush.

Willey endorses McCain

Kathleen Willey, who accused Clinton of making sexual advances toward her in 1993, has endorsed McCain for president because "I think we need a hero. I do -- I need a hero again as my president."

The conservative press isn't so sure. Most of the big hitters support Bush, but there is dissent within the ranks, with a vocal minority --
including William Kristol -- supporting McCain. One of the things that is preventing
more conservatives from jumping on the McCain bandwagon is the fact that he is swooned over by the "liberal" press. As Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, says, "If Jonathan Alter loves the guy, if Al Hunt loves the guy, there must be something wrong with him."

Dowd thinks McCain is the man

Maureen Dowd reduces the GOP primary race to this: "It was a thrill akin to watching Wile E. Coyote push the plunger on a load of Acme dynamite to hear Mr. McCain tag Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton, all in the same breath, as 'agents of intolerance.'"

Candidates demonstrate contrasting means

On the night of the Virginia and Washington primaries, McCain supporters in Memphis, Tenn., gathered to show support for the presidential candidate in Gore's home state. The $25-a-person campaign rally was held in response to the growing interest in McCain's viability as president. Also, Barbara Bush will be at a $1,000-a-person fund-raiser Tuesday in Memphis. (Suzi Parker)

Talking heads

CNN's Crossfire: Senators Barbara Boxer and Paul Wellstone (7:30PM)

Tonight Show With Jay Leno: McCain will make an appearance.

Late Night With David Letterman: Bush will appear via satellite.

Washington Journal:

7:00 AM EST -- Hotline founder Doug Bailey

7:45 AM EST -- Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network on NY Politics

8:30 AM EST -- Senator Paul Wellstone on the Bradley Campaign

On the trail

Bradley: Huntington Park and Los Angeles, Calif.

Bush: Duluth, Ga., and St. Louis and Springfield, Mo.

Gore: Los Angeles.

McCain: Riverside, Los Angeles and Westminster, Calif.

Sound off

E-mail me with your comments, suggestions and tips at

By Compiled by Max Garrone

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