Al Gore and Howard Dean: A Political Odd Couple

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Dec. 9, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST: Al Gore's endorsement will put a lot more pressure on Howard Dean (search). For one thing, potential voters will take a much harder look at his record as governor.

Dick Harpootlian (search) is former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. And that's today's big question, Dick — is Howard Dean now in the Democratic mainstream?

DICK HARPOOTLIAN, FMR. CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, I think certainly this endorsement by Al Gore (search) is huge. In South Carolina, where all the polls have shown Dean running third or fourth behind Clark and Edwards and Gephardt and even sometimes Lieberman, this is a big boost.

Al Gore is very popular with the base here. I think clearly John Edwards (search) has taken a hit with this endorsement. It hurts him because he has been the frontrunner. It is too early to tell what it does to Clark. But it is a big deal, and it is going to have a huge impact.

NAPOLITANO: All right, you used to be the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party. Will this endorsement by Al Gore now bring the party mechanism in South Carolina and elsewhere throughout the South behind Howard Dean?

HARPOOTLIAN: That's hard to tell. I went to a Dean rally here on Sunday. There were about 400 people there. Very few African-Americans in a state where African-Americans represent perhaps as much as 50 percent of the turnout in the primary.

I did not see any party regulars there, no county chairman, no county executive committee people. So, the question is, will they use this Gore endorsement in a very aggressive way to try to recruit those people to the Dean campaign? It is too early to tell, but Howard Dean has shown that he is a master politician. He's made all the right moves, and he is going to be a force to be reckoned with here in South Carolina.

NAPOLITANO: Is the Democratic Party in South Carolina a little too conservative for the liberal ex-governor from Vermont?

HARPOOTLIAN: We keep hearing he is liberal, but I don't know that other than the Civil Union Bill, he has been endorsed by the NRA, very fiscally conservative, pro-death penalty. I don't know what's liberal about him and we'll have to see whether he, in fact, is as liberal as folks say.

NAPOLITANO: OK. Well, we know that he wants to undo the president's tax cut. We know he is in favor of abortion on demand. We know that he is in favor of civil unions. Are platforms like that going to go over well with the Democrats in the South?

HARPOOTLIAN: Well, I'm pro-choice. I think that the $26,000 I got in the president's tax cut package, I rather that go to retire the deficit or fight the war. I mean, we can disagree. That doesn't make him liberal, that makes him responsible. As to the Civil Union Bill, you know, that's not something that I subscribe to. I don't think that that will have broad support. But I don't know that with the country's economic situation in the toilet and embroiled in a war on Iraq, the people are going to worry about whether gay folks get married or not. I think there are much more basic concerns. Will that matter in November of 2004? It is too early to tell. I will tell you this, though. George Bush came here in February of 2000 and trashed John McCain here by going — he went to Bob Jones ...

NAPOLITANO: Right. And he stopped the McCain juggernaut. So, my next question ...

HARPOOTLIAN: A very hard lurch to the right wing. Bob Jones.


HARPOOTLIAN: So would you say that Howard Dean is too liberal? He is appealing to the more liberal aspects of this party in the primary. That doesn't mean he won't shift back come general election.

NAPOLITANO: OK. Can the native South Carolinian that's running for the Democratic primary, now the North Carolina senator, Senator John Edwards, can he stop the Howard Dean juggernaut in South Carolina on February 3?

HARPOOTLIAN: I think it is going to be very tough. I think that John Edwards has spent a bunch of money here, a bunch of time here. He's still at 14 percent or 15 percent. I think the guy to watch is Wesley Clark. He is beginning to get some momentum here. But it is still way early. Everybody's focused on Christmas and those sorts of things. After the first of the year, that's when the concrete is going to start to harden and that's when you'll be able to figure out what's going on.

NAPOLITANO: Does this mean automatic victory for Howard Dean? And now I want big picture from you in Iowa and in New Hampshire?

HARPOOTLIAN: I've campaigned in New Hampshire twice, once for Gore and again for Bill Clinton in '92. I think it is a big deal in New Hampshire. Iowa, the caucuses out there are so wacky, I can't predict that. But I will tell you I think this ensures that New Hampshire is his. So, if he were to win Iowa and New Hampshire and then come to South Carolina with this endorsement, it may very well be over.

NAPOLITANO: What about the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party? There must be a broad group of centrists in your own South Carolina. How do they feel about this sort of left-leaning — I know you don't agree with that.

HARPOOTLIAN: I don't agree with him being left-leaning.

NAPOLITANO: But that is the perception of it. How does the centrist wing of the Democrats perceive Al Gore and Howard Dean uniting as sort of an odd couple?

HARPOOTLIAN: Well, they are an odd couple in the sense that politically they do disagree on a lot of issues. And personality wise, if Al Gore had had the fire in his belly that Howard Dean has, he would be president of the United States right now.

They do share a common interest, and that is they believe George Bush is the worst president that this country has ever seen, which, by the way, I share with them. So, they came together on trying to save this country. And that's where Al Gore thinks the best chance at saving this country is, Howard Dean. It's too early. I'm not committed to any candidate. I'm still looking. I'm still shopping.

NAPOLITANO: All right, I know you are looking and shopping. But before I let you go, give me a prediction. Who gets the nomination?

HARPOOTLIAN: Well, I think as you sit here today, if you had to handicap it, Dean.

NAPOLITANO: OK. Dick Harpootlian from South Carolina, thank you very much for joining us.


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