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The Post's David Broder on Campaign 2000 and the California Primary

Free Media
Related Links
Justices Reject 'Blanket' Format for Primaries (The Washington Post, June 27)
Full Text: Calif. Democratic Primary v. Jones
How Each State Votes
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Friday, June 30, 2000; 12 p.m. EDT

In a 7 to 2 vote, the Supreme Court struck down California's "blanket" primary system this week. California's primary, which was criticized by many as a "beauty contest," allowed voters to cast their ballots for candidates of either party.

David S. Broder
Broder (The Post)

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and reporter David S. Broder is the author of a book entitled "Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns & the Power of Money," and has written extensively about primaries, elections and special interests. Broder will join "Free Media" on Friday, June 30 at noon EDT to talk about Campaign 2000 and the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the California primary. Read the transcript


Free Media: Good afternoon, David, and welcome. Were you surprised about this week's decision by the Supreme Court to strike down the blanket primary? What do you think of the blanket primary as a way of choosing candidates?

David Broder: I was very surprised by the 7-2 margin knocking out the California blanket primary. I didn't know there were that many justices who cared about the "integrity" of political parties. Personally, I applaud the decision, because I think it is very hard to govern this country without strong political parties, and keeping the parties' role in selecting candidates for public office is an important measure of their strength.

Arlington, Va.: Why did California choose the "blanket" system anyway? What were the benefits?

David Broder: The argument for the blanket primary was twofold: It would allow the growing number of independents to participate in candidate selection and, second, it is supposed to produce more moderate nominees. It certainly achieves the first goal; the second is questionable.

Washington, D.C.: How will the elimination of the "blanket" primary system affect voter turnout? Can we expect a dramatic decrease?

David Broder: It is likely that eliminating the blanket primary will reduce turnout, by taking independents out of the eligible voter pool. How much it will go down remains to be seen.

Washington, D.C.: Who do you see winning the presidential race and the race for the New York Senate? What is your take on the latter?

David Broder: My vision is not clear enough to tell you who will be the next president or the next senator from New York. I think reporters make very poor predictors--and besides, that's not our line of work. Astrologers are much more reliable.

Arlington, Va.: As the Constitution nowhere mentions political parties, was the Supreme Court hearkening back to the argument that corporations are persons used in the late 1800's and expanding it to political parties?

David Broder: You are correct that the Constitution does not mention political parties. But the First Amendment guarantees the right of free association, and the Supreme Court has long held that means that parties have a right to determine their own internal procedures--including the question of who should participate in the selection of their nominees, so long as they are not discriminating on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, etc. The blanket primary decision was based on the First Amendment and had nothing to do with a definition of corporations as persons.

Washington, D.C.: On another note, what's your opinion of the vote on 527 committees and financial disclosure?

David Broder: I think what Congress did in requiring disclosure of finances by the 527 committees was a useful step. It is certainly not comprehensive campaign finance reform, but it is at least one measure of accountability in a process that needs a lot more work.

Alexandria, Va.: What's your take on political conventions? Are they worthwhile exercises any more, or just gigantic photo ops? Does anything worthwhile go on beyond camera range?

David Broder: As you would expect, I love political conventions for the opportunity they provide to interview scores of politicians from all parts of the country in a few days. Political activists also use them to update their Rolodexes and establish personal contacts with people who share their enthusiasm for various causes. The conventions don't have much decision-making power any more, so TV has decided it's not worth much to them. But I'd rather be there than almost any place else--other than Wrigley Field.

New York, N.Y.: I've been thinking about other court decisions this week -- Boy Scouts and the Nebraska abortion law. Do you think these will develop into large issues either in the national campaign or in various races for House and Senate? Not the specific cases so much, but gay rights and abortion?

David Broder: Gay rights and abortion will certainly influence the votes of significant blocs in the electorate. I'm skeptical, however, that the makeup of the Court and the President's appointive power will become major issues. In the campaigns I have covered, both parties have failed to make voters think seriously about that aspect of the President's job, even though it can be a President's most lasting legacy.

Arlington, Va.: Will the ruling against the California "blanket" primary system have a significant impact on the rise of third parties in this country? Do you think that a new party could supplant the power of the Republicans or Democrats?

David Broder: I don't think the blanket primary decision will affect minor parties except that it protects them from "raids" by supporters of other parties who mischievously decide to nominate an obnoxious person for the minor party. I expect to see minor parties arise from time to time, as they have in the past, but I don't think this year is one in which the climate helps them. The country seems less angry and less dissatisfied than it was in the 1990s or the 1970s, when Perot and Wallace did rather well.

Arlington, Va.: Do the political parties only care about "supposed" power and getting numbers elected or do they care about doing what the American people want? It seems that in election year antics, all candidates just start to sound like each other -- making it so that there isn't a discrepancy between Republican and Democratic principles. Why can't each candidate lay out what they believe and then let the American people decide the direction they want the country to go?

David Broder: Of course, the parties are interested in winning. But this year, there are plenty of real differences in policy on things the voters care about--education, health care, Social Security, taxes, defense, etc. Gore and Bush have both laid out serious proposals, and in Congress, the differences between the Democrats and Republicans are even more dramatic. The voters have clear choices--though not extreme choices--but there is plenty of substance on the table in this election, at least in my view.

Washington, D.C.: What's your take on the prescription drug benefits battle in the House this week? Was that just an election year fight or have there been legitimate efforts from both sides over the past few years to get a bill dealing with this through?

David Broder: There are legitimate differences between the parties on how to provide prescription drug benefits, with Republicans favoring an approach using private insurance and subsidies for needy individuals and Democrats generally preferring an expansion of Medicare to make drugs part of the universal entitlement. But because it is such an important issue for so many voters, there has not been much of an impulse to compromise---and so I am not hopeful anything will become law this year.

Santa Fe, N.M.: What do you think will happen to Bill Richardson? Obviously, with gas prices and the security stuff at Los Alamos, this guy's not running mate material, and I'd be surprised to see him in a Gore Cabinet, should the VP win. Yet he hasn't had anything close to a personal scandal a la Henry Cisneros. Are we getting back to a time when public officials are actually criticized for things going wrong, or is this an aberration?

David Broder: I happen to like Bill Richardson a lot, but I think that when there are major policy failures or operational breakdowns in a Cabinet department, the honorable thing is to take responsibility and offer to resign. Of course, I thought--and wrote--that Bill Clinton should have resigned from the presidency over his misconduct and give the reins of government then to the man he is now urging us to elect as his successor.

Chicago, Ill.: What do you think of the role of the "lame duck" president? It seems as though President Clinton has been talking to the press an awful lot lately -- press conferences have been fairly frequent in the last few months. Not to mention him weighing in on issues that Gore and Bush are battling over. Should he be stepping out of the way?

David Broder: I don't think anyone on the White House staff has had the guts to tell President Clinton he is a lame duck. You can expect to see him step back about noon next January 20--and not one minute sooner.

McLean, Va.: Do you feel President Clinton truly supports Gore for president. In some of his speeches, his support for Gore seems half-hearted. Have you noticed the same thing and if so, what do you think is behind this?

David Broder: No, I don't think there are any hidden clauses in President Clinton's support of Vice President Gore. Like many other Democrats, he has been disappointed and frustrated at times by the Gore campaign. But I have never seen a White House and administration more fully committed to the sitting vice president than this one is to Gore.

Free Media: In your June 28 column, Illinois' Welfare Success" you discuss how Illinois has been "notably effective" in reducing its welfare rolls. How much of an issue will welfare be in the 2000 elections? Do you think we can expect a great deal of debate on welfare reform between Bush and Gore and who is more likely to bring up the issue?

David Broder: Welfare appears to have faded as a political issue; both Clinton and the Republican Congress can claim some credit for the reduction in the welfare rolls, so it may help incumbents of both parties. What we're not likely to hear is much discussion of what will happen when the five-year time limit on welfare payments runs out, or what needs to be done to move unemployed males, many with criminal records, off the corners and into jobs.

Arlington, Va.: What can we expect in Arizona Sen. John McCain's future? Do you think he'll make another bid for the presidency? And along those same lines, what do you predict for Bill Bradley?

David Broder: Once again, I have to say prediction is not in my bag of tricks. What I can say is that Senator McCain has become a widely known and widely admired national figure; if George Bush is defeated in November, I would not be at all surprised to see McCain run again. I hope there is some role for Bill Bradley in the future, because I think he is a thoughtful, creative guy. But his performance as a candidate was disappointing even to many of his followers, so I don't know how much encouragement he would receive about running for office again.

Charlottesville, Va.: I remember reading a story in The Post a few weeks ago about Bush and Gore on education that remarked on how that even though they push education policy as a centerpiece of the campaign, they both feel like it's mainly a job of state's government. The education story in the paper today echoes the sentiment that education is the most important issues to voters. Why would voters base things on education policy when the real work of the president is on the economy and foreign policy?

Free Media: Today's Post story on education, "'Education Voters' Pose a Tough Test".

David Broder: Because schools are so important to people, they rightly expect presidential candidates to share their concern. But as the story said, people are not looking for a federal takeover of the education system, so the role of a president may be more in exhorting than in running things. I think it a great thing that both these men have ideas to offer on education, and a strong concern about the subject.

Washington, D.C.: Am I the only one who did a double take on the nomination of Norm Mineta for Commerce secretary?

David Broder: I don't know what the source of your double take on the Mineta nomination may be. I covered him for years in Congress and found him a very able member of the House.

Washington, D.C.: Gore recently released the transcript of his interview with a special counsel on the fund-raising he did in the '96 elections. Do you think this was a good move? How will this affect his campaign?

Free Media: Full text of the Gore deposition.

David Broder: It was probably smart politics for Gore to release the transcript of his Justice Department interview. It would have been in his interest to request some kind of independent inquiry when the questions first arose three years ago, rather than have them clouding his candidacy five months before the election.

Albany, N.Y.: Which would you rather watch: John Rocker play the Mets or Hillary Clinton debate Rick Lazio?

David Broder: I watched Rocker at Shea, and while I was rooting for the Mets (out of loyalty to my Brooklyn son, a big Mets fan) it was a riveting spectacle. If Hillary Clinton and Lazio ever debate, I'll try to watch that too. But with lower expectations.

Chicago, Ill.: Wrigley Field? Cubs fan, are you, Mr. Broder?

David Broder: Damn right. Prenatal influence. My mother was in love with the voice of Pat Flanagan, then the Cubs broadcaster. And I've been going to games at Wrigley field for about 60 years now. Nothing like it.

Charlotte, N.C.: McCain aroused such fervor during the primaries -- people actually came out to vote. Any predictions on voter turnout this fall? Can you remember a recent election with such mediocre candidates?

David Broder: I'm afraid turnout may be low this fall, in part because there are no great crises people turn to Washington to solve. But I disagree that these are mediocre candidates. I think both of them became better campaigners during the course of the primaries and have the potential to give the country a good contest in the fall. And I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep at the prospect of either one of them becoming president.

Tucson, Ariz.: Initiatives may be misused, but in Arizona, we have an ultra-conservative minority who have gerrymandered their way into disproportionate power, and initiative is the only way for some common sense solutions to issues facing the state to be implemented. How, if voter initiatives are discontinued, are we to see progress in dealing with education and other costly issues?

David Broder: I don't think there is any possibility of initiatives being discontinued in states like Arizona where they exist. As for education, the Arizona legislature is submitting a tax increase for the schools, which the governor has requested. That strikes me as responsible government.

Falls Church, Va.: What will be the issue that defines this campaign?

David Broder: At this point, there does not appear to be one issue which overrides everything else. People want assurance that the policies that have helped produce a healthy economy will continue and they also want the corrupt culture of Washington changed. I think those two desires probably will control the dynamic of the fall debate.

Cleveland, Ohio: What do you think of third-party candidates like Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader and Harry Browne? Should they get more coverage? Would they have a better chance in a "blanket" primary?

David Broder: It is hard to decide how--and how fully--to cover minor party presidential candidates. I hope they have some televised debates so people can hear their ideas, but I think the Debate Commission is right in saying that they should have to demonstrate pretty broad public support (15 percent in the polls) in order to join the major-party nominees in the final debates. We have covered -- and will cover -- their nominating conventions and written about their views, but not to the same extent, obviously, that we do the Republican and Democratic candidates.

New Yorker in D.C.: Always liked you, now I adore you and your very intelligent son who has made a least 2 great choices in his life: The Mets and Brooklyn!!!

David Broder: I will tell Josh that I am riding on his coattails -- not for the first time, either.

Free Media: That was our last question for The Post's David Broder. Thank you to Mr. Broder and to all who participated.

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