- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

Show business

"If former President Bush holds the influence over his son that friends say he does, then we might have a window into why George W. Bush initially balked at accepting the debates proposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates Pop hates 'em," Paul Bedard writes in U.S. News & World Report.

" 'I think you ought to do what's best to get you elected. And if that's best, you have no debates, too bad for all you debate lovers because I really think a candidate should be entitled to that,' says Bush [senior]. In a fascinating historical look at debates set to air next Sunday on PBS Bush recalls his last clash with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992, after which he was criticized for impatiently checking his watch. Explaining, Bush says, 'Was I glad when the damn thing was over? Yeah. And maybe that's why I was looking at it; only 10 more minutes of this crap.'

"He calls debates 'show business.' It's also unnerving, he tells host Jim Lehrer: 'Tension City.' Clinton didn't dispute the former prez's claim that sound bites are prepackaged and rehearsed for deadly effect. 'If you can leave a memorable line or two in the public conscience … you try, at least I did.' "

Not a tea party

Was Republican Rep. Rick Lazio too hard on Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton during their Senate debate last week in Buffalo, N.Y.? That was the question put to top advisers for each campaign in an appearance yesterday on ABC's "This Week."

"Oh, not at all," said Mike Murphy, the top strategist for Mr. Lazio. "As a matter of fact, we're very happy to debate and we can hardly wait for more. We think Rick did really well and this soft-money issue is a big issue. Mrs. Clinton's campaign spent a million dollars a week in negative soft-money ads. We're trying to set a national example here with this pledge. She's running from it. So campaign finance reform with Rick Lazio, a pro-McCain-Feingold kind of guy, versus Mrs. Clinton is a big issue."

Mr. Murphy added: "Now, you know, you never know how these debates you put a microscope on them. But the fact is, these polls are all saying the same thing. It's a tied race. It's going to be very close. But we think Rick really broke through as somebody who's tough, able to deliver for New York. I mean, this isn't high tea. This is a New York Senate race about who's going to be a tough, effective advocate for the state. He made that case very well."

Clinton adviser Mandy Grunwald, naturally, saw things a little differently.

"This is about issues, not insults. And I think the polls today, which have Hillary still ahead 48-43, show that people don't like that kind of nastiness, that he really did go too far," Mrs. Grunwald said.

"And it wasn't about the issues. This wasn't a debate about issues. He took a really nasty approach, trying to go at character. And I think he's had the same problems with that that, frankly, George Bush has had. People don't like that kind of thing. They really want to talk about the issues and I think that's what Hillary's focused on."

Laid back

In an interview yesterday, CNN's Wolf Blitzer told Lynne Cheney that some people are saying her husband, Richard B. Cheney, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, seems a lot less happy on the campaign trail than his Democratic rival, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut.

Mr. Blitzer, host of "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," asked Mrs. Cheney if Mr. Cheney, a former defense secretary, is having "second thoughts" about joining Texas Gov. George W. Bush on the Republican ticket.

"Of course not," she replied and went on to say no one should expect anything too flamboyant or colorful from her spouse.

"He's not the kind of politician who runs up and grabs a baby. He's a serious guy, and this is a serious election," said Mrs. Cheney, who served as chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities during the presidential administration of Mr. Bush's father.

She also described Mr. Cheney as "laid back."

"This is not a guy who goes around the room, breathing hard, when things go wrong. But this is the guy you want advising the president" in major crises, Mrs. Cheney said.

On-line vote watching

Political junkies no longer have to wait for sketchy television or radio reports to catch election returns.

Web sites created by a growing number of supervisors of elections offices across the country are dispensing comprehensive, up-to-the-minute results, ushering in a new era of political coverage. Many, in fact, offer running precinct-by-precinct results, allowing voters to see at a glance how their neighborhood voted in various races, Scripps Howard News Service reports.

During an election earlier this month in Martin County, Fla., for example, residents clicked onto detailed, colorful and easy-to-follow election returns as the returns came in from election headquarters. On election night and the following day, more than 22,000 "hits" were recorded in a county of only about 110,000 residents, according to the local sheriff's office, which administers the Web site for the elections office.

Web site visitors found up-to-the-minute candidate results, both in raw vote totals and percentages. Also included: a running update on the percentage of precincts reporting.

To update pages, Web site visitors needed only to hit their computers' "refresh" key.

The clear organization of the information also made the Martin County Web site a breeze to print out, reporter Bob Betcher said.

While the Web sites offer instant information, they lack perspective and analysis. Newspapers, TV and radio still offer that advantage. And some races that straddle more than one county or district require Web surfers to log onto three or more different sites to tally up the results themselves, a somewhat cumbersome process.

Now's the time

"Time is running out for Rep. Ron Klink," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, referring to the Democratic candidate for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania.

"If he is to fulfill the Democrats' hopes of toppling Republican Sen. Rick Santorum on Nov. 7, according to analysts watching Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, Klink has to make his move now," reporters Tom Infield and Thomas Fitzgerald write.

"Polls show that more than half the voters know little about him. And Santorum has a lot more money, not to mention a double-digit lead in the horse-race surveys.

"Still, there's an opening for Klink, strategists say, as long as he vacuums up enough cash to begin advertising soon on television."

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