Digital disconnect at camp Gore

Republicans go public over Bush campaign woes, and another Clinton falls for a White House intern.



Alicia Montgomery
September 7, 2000 2:16PM (UTC)

In his 191-page campaign tome "Prosperity for American Families," Al Gore discusses several ways he'll lift up those left out by the economic expansion, including the victims of the so-called "digital divide." And maybe, eventually, those computerless masses will actually be able to read the proposal. In two calls to the press office at the vice president's campaign headquarters, a staffer told Salon that "Prosperity for American Families" would be available exclusively online. Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway later denied that, and insisted that -- despite an initial print run of only 750 -- hard copies of the book would be made available to the public. But don't look for "Prosperity" to hit bestseller lists any time soon. Hattaway claimed that the phone hadn't exactly been ringing off the hook from disconnected and dispossessed voters demanding a copy. (How many calls, we asked? "Not one," Hattaway says.)

Pushing the panic button on Bush
Jittery Republicans have gone off background and on the record with their apprehensions over George W. Bush's campaign stumbles, according to the New York Times. "There's no doubt about it: There's real worry about the general state of things," said family values guru and former Secretary of Education William Bennett, who has advised the Bush campaign in the past. "There's nervousness that was not there before."

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Republicans listed several issues of concern in the presidential race, including Bush's debate-duck strategy, his lack of issue focus and the creeping negative tone of his campaign. For example, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., believes that the sarcasm of the Republican National Committee's recent anti-Gore commercial, "Really," missed the mood of the American people. "I don't think it's wise to do a 'tongue-in-cheek,'" Specter said, adding that the character issue could be handled differently. "It's got to be treated very seriously and in a factual way with no apologies -- but not tongue in cheek." Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, wants Bush to stop following Gore's lead on issues and stick to his own agenda. "The biggest mistake we can make is to try to be all things to all people," he said. "We have to be very aggressive and not engage in any reticence about our philosophy or our positions."

Others feel that the Bush camp needs to get off cruise control, and that the Texas governor just wasn't prepared for Gore's post-convention strength. "Everybody expected a bounce, but not nearly as much as this," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. "There is a lot of chatter at the grass-roots level about how they're scared of these new numbers. This has shocked the system from what looked like a slam dunk."

Despite the doubting Thomases, Bush's campaign team asserts that all systems are go on its side, and that the GOP was fooling itself if it ever expected a runaway win. "Everybody wants to win in a landslide," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Landslides are rare. We've always known and said this was going to be a close race."

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Bush offers medicine for Medicare's ills
The Texas governor got a little closer to Gore on the issue of healthcare or, at least, the cost of reform. In addition to offering $110 billion over the next decade for Medicare reform, Bush would reverse a $40 billion cut in federal payments to Medicare providers and give $48 billion in immediate aid to states for their own prescription drug benefit plans. Bush has tried to turn healthcare reform from a Democratic staple into an indictment of the Clinton administration. "Eight years ago, Bill Clinton and Al Gore promised Medicare reform," Bush said in a Pennsylvania campaign speech. "Four years ago, they did the same. This is a patient country, but our patience is wearing thin. This is not a time for third chances; this is a time for new beginnings and new leadership." But Gore replied that it's time for Bush to get a new calculator. The vice president asserted that the biggest flaw in his opponent's plan is that "there is no money to pay for it" after factoring in the $1.3 trillion in tax cuts that the Republican candidate has made a priority.

Trying not to offend on defense
While Bush may still have to wrestle the issue of healthcare reform from Gore, he has tried to make the military issue all his. The Washington Post reports that Bush will lower the volume on military preparedness in favor of pushing for defense policy reform. The Republican presidential hopeful will debut this new approach during an Ohio appearance with retired Gen. Colin Powell, at which he will charge that President Clinton has failed to remodel the military for the post-Cold War world. This change comes after Bush drew fire from both sides of the aisle by questioning the battle readiness of the armed forces, and it reflects an internal battle among his staff about how best to deal with the issue of defense.

According to experts inside and outside the campaign, Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, has been a major stumbling block in attempts to clarify the candidate's message on defense. Said Frank Hoffman, an expert on military innovation and organization, "Cheney is clogging up the discussion with the 'Desert Storm redux' military and he's lost the message about transformation." Others insist that the defense issue is little more than a tempest in a teapot. "Unless there is a crisis," said Harlan Ullman, a defense specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "I don't think that defense will be an issue."

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Bush's way or no way
While the Texas governor continued to attack the Democrats on defense, he fought back against charges of debate ducking. According to MSNBC, Bush patently refused to approve the plan set forth by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, and said he'd only attend those events specified by his own campaign. "I've laid out what I'm going to do," Bush told NBC's "Today" show, and then challenged Gore to go mano a mano on a prime-time "Meet the Press" contest next week. But the vice president wouldn't bite in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I'm not going to play games to try to substitute a talk show for the national bipartisan commission debates," Gore said. Bush still insists that he'll show up on Tim Russert's program no matter what Gore does, but NBC won't turn on the cameras for a solo show. Said network spokeswoman Barbara Levin, "We offered a debate, not an appearance."

Cheney once championed debates
Though his new boss has been a little slippery on the issue, Dick Cheney used to be a big backer of presidential debates. The Dallas Morning News reports that Cheney, an advisor to President Gerald Ford during his 1976 race with Jimmy Carter, credited debates for closing a 30-point Republican deficit in the polls that year. According to writings housed at Ford's presidential library, Cheney maintained that the public's affection for Carter was cooled as a result of the debates, even though that didn't win Ford the election. "I still believe the decision to include the debate option in our 1976 campaign strategy was the right one," Cheney wrote shortly after Carter's win. "Given the circumstances we faced in the summer before the convention and the size of our opponent's lead, we had few alternatives." But Cheney has apparently forgotten his pro-debate stand since that time. When a reporter asked about the Ford debate strategy during a Cheney campaign stop in Pennsylvania, the veep wannabe replied, "I'm not familiar with what you're talking about."

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A "West Wing" love connection
While the president's romance with a White House intern has been used against him, maybe his daughter will have better luck. Just like her fictional counterpart on NBC's "The West Wing," Chelsea Clinton has started dating one of her dad's employees. The New York Daily News reports that Chelsea's boyfriend, White House intern and fellow Stanford student Jeremy Kane, has already received her mom and dad's official OK, and traveled as a guest of the first family during the Democratic National Convention in August. Kane has taken Chelsea several times to the Presbyterian Church in Los Gatos, Calif., where his father -- the Rev. Jeffrey Kane -- once led the flock. So far, the first daughter has stayed off the record on her relationship with Kane. "I'm not allowed to speak to the media," she recently told prying reporters.

On the trail
Pat Buchanan: No public events.
Bush: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Gore: Pennsylvania and Louisiana.
Ralph Nader: New Mexico.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

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  • Gore 49 to Bush 39 (Newsweek Aug. 30-31).
  • Bush 46 to Gore 45 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Aug. 25-27).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 44 (CBS News Aug. 18-20).
  • Gore 44 to Bush 41 (Reuters/Zogby Aug. 18-20).
  • Gore 50 to Bush 45 (Washington Post/ABC News Aug. 18-20).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 39 (Los Angeles Times Aug. 11-13).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Newsweek Aug. 30-31).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Aug. 25-27).
  • Nader 5 to Buchanan 2 (Reuters/Zogby Aug. 18-20).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 3 (Washington Post/ABC News Aug. 18-20).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 2 (Los Angeles Times Aug. 11-13).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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