Dems debate while Republicans take late night

Bradley and Gore stage their last debate, the GOP contenders appear with Letterman and Leno and the New York campaign really heats up.

Published March 2, 2000 9:24AM (EST)

Salon has the jump on the presidential toy market with its new line of action figures featuring hand-tailored clothing and a full range of poses! The Associated Press caught the McCain doll interacting with its model and his wife, Cindy, aboard John McCain's "Straight Talk Express."

We don't disagree, but one of us has to win

Bill Bradley and Al Gore conducted a weird, mellow debate Wednesday night, especially in contrast to the contentious debate held Feb. 21 in Harlem's Apollo Theater. Lessons learned from President Clinton were clearly on view: Both candidates left the podium for every answer, but Bradley often missed creating a direct connection with a questioner while Gore never missed a chance to draw a direct line between issues and people. The candidates never really clashed.

Gore's campaign prowess is growing. The New York Times finds that he has isolated the press and is staying relentlessly on message, a strategy that his Republican counterpart, George W. Bush, also has adopted with considerable acumen.

Late night with Bush and McCain

George W. Bush appeared on "Late Night With David Letterman" Wednesday while John McCain appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." Highlights included Letterman asking, "How do you look so youthful and rested?" Bush replied, "Fake it." Letterman's response: "And that's pretty much how you're going to run the country?" McCain's appearance seemed looser and more chatty in talking about his favorite talismans, crashing airplanes and rolling out his campaign mottoes.

Bush will appear on Jay Leno's show on the eve of next Tuesday's primaries.

Bauer turns on McCain

Evidently, Gary Bauer's friends within the Christian conservative movement have captured his ear. After appearing onstage with McCain Monday, when he blasted Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and sticking up for him in press conferences and in an editorial in the New York Times Wednesday, Bauer backed away and asked McCain to repudiate his remarks. "I must in the strongest possible terms repudiate Senator McCain's unwarranted, ill-advised and divisive attacks on certain religious leaders. Senator McCain must not allow his personal differences with any individual to cloud his judgment."

After Bauer's remarks, McCain apologized for referring to Robertson and Falwell as "evil," saying it was only a joke. "I do not consider them evil, and I regret that my flip remark may have mistakenly created that impression."

McCain bashed in NY TV ads

A new pair of ads attacking McCain's record are running in New York, and the Republican Party hierarchy has the hit the airwaves in support of Bush. One ad, paid for by a group called Republicans for Clean Air, accuses McCain of voting against alternative energy sources; the other, paid for by the Bush campaign and read by Gov. George Pataki advisor Geri Barish, accuses McCain of labeling breast cancer programs as pork.

Meanwhile Pataki came out with guns blazing and accused McCain of voting "anti-New York," while Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., scolded McCain for voting to raise heating oil taxes, a hot issue in a wintry Northeast beset by sky-high oil prices. "If there was such a thing as an anti-New York caucus, he would be the head of it," said Sweeney.

Rudy Giuliani is notably absent in all these attacks. He has endorsed Bush and made positive comments about McCain but refuses to be a part of Bush's aggressive campaign in New York. Giuliani was caught in the opposite crossfire Wednesday in an appearance with Long Island Republican scion and McCain organizer Guy Molinari. In response to a question asking which Republican candidate would benefit Giuliani the most in the fall, when he'll need moderate support to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton, Molinari, after hemming and hawing, responded: "I think John McCain's support is much broader, and if John McCain is the nominee, I think he's going to bring more votes to the Republican line."

McCain dodging Will?

The National Review wonders if McCain is dodging George Will because ABC's "This Week" didn't have the conservative columnist on the show Sunday when McCain was a guest. Does McCain have some influence over his television interlocutors? ABC denies it, but the National Review says the only other explanation is that ABC doesn't "know how to make good, aggressive Sunday-morning television."

McCain meltdown! Oops, never mind

The frenzy of modern media-driven campaigns has forced campaign press flacks to be hyperaware of every little thing that happens on the campaign trail and to 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 McCain bus caravan, when this reporter received a call from a Bush campaign spokesperson who talked about how McCain had had an apparent meltdown on Michael Reagan's syndicated radio talk show, hanging up on Reagan when the discussion 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 jumped on McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky, who scoffed at the reports, then quickly placed a phone call to the Straight Talk Express to find out what in the hell had happened.

It turns out McCain was doing the interview via cell phone, when his 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 it had originally hoped. But with gallant 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 rumor in Washington had the former New Jersey senator pulling out of the race on Wednesday), most polls still show Gore with a double-digit lead in almost every Super Tuesday primary state. Thus, the official media execution of Bradley's quest hasn't been stayed as much as it has been put off a week.

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 five-minute commercial it purchased for Thursday night at 10:55 p.m. ET on CBS -- a buzzer beater of a ploy if there ever was one.

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. Some Bradley campaign staffer had forgotten to fill it out.

"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 snipefest between the adversaries for the 2000 Senate race that dragged in entertainers named Puffy and Chuck.

First, Hillary 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 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 Kim Serafin, referring to recent charges against Combs for possession of a 9 mm pistol after 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' contribution."

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

Talking heads

C-Span's Washington Journal:

Hotline founder Doug Bailey

Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network, on New York politics

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., on the Bradley campaign

CNN: Republican debate, 6 p.m. PT

CNN's Crossfire: Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer and McCain spokesman Dan Schnur, 7:30PM EST

Poll positions

The latest nationwide polls asking Republicans which candidate they support for the nomination show Bush with a solid lead over McCain. The Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll shows Bush leading 57 to 33 percent, and the ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Bush leading 63 to 31 percent.

In state polls, the only place that McCain holds a clear lead is New England, specifically Massachusetts, where he leads Bush 61 to 30 percent, according to a University of Massachusetts poll of likely Republican voters. In the crucial California primary, two polls show McCain trailing 26 percent to Bush's 47 percent (Los Angeles Time poll of likely Republican voters) and 27 percent to Bush's 45 percent (Research 2000 poll of likely Republican voters).

On the trail

Bradley: Manhattan and Connecticut.

Bush: Los Angeles.

Gore: Maryland.

McCain: Los Angeles.

Sound off

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

By Compiled by Max Garrone

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