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Presidential Race Too Close to Call; Hillary Rodham Clinton to Join U.S. Senate; Florida Recount Due by Close of Business Thursday

Aired November 8, 2000 - 9:47 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And you are looking at the results from the New York Senate race. Hillary Rodham Clinton is now the junior senator from New York, beating Rick Lazio last night by a 12-point margin.

For more reaction on this race, let's bring in our Washington bureau chief, Frank Sesno.

Frank, a historic win. The first first lady to hold public office. What is the reaction from Capitol Hill?

FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, there is a lot of talk on Capitol Hill about having Hillary Rodham Clinton present. Overall, let me tell you what it is. First of all, there is a great sense that she will be one of the primary national faces of the Democratic Party and to -- liable to be talked about, at least in the media, as a possible presidential contender down the line.

Secondly, noted that she is going to have her own Secret Service contingent. So there is going to be kind of a whoosh when Hillary Clinton walks in the door, whether members like it or not; and I can tell you, there are some members who are going to have some trouble with that. They are already expressing that.

And finally, her assignments speak a bit to where her interests lie and perhaps what her voice is going to be like. She is, we are being told, going to be on the Senate Health Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Now the acronym, if you keep track of such things, is "HELP." Ted Kennedy is the ranking Democrat; Jim Jeffords, Republican from Vermont, one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate, is the chair. So you can expect some interesting moments on that committee from Hillary Rodham Clinton.

KAGAN: Frank, let's break this down by party now. First let's look at the Democrats. A win for them, good for them to hold onto that Senate seat, and yet you have to wonder if all Democrats are happy that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be sticking around Washington for six years, and also even being a member of the Senate.

SESNO: That is right, Daryn. Well, you know, it's interesting, what the Democrats are telling me now is that they understand what they've got on their hands here. They understand that she is going to attract certainly media attention, great media attention, if nothing else.

But some Democrats have said, quite frankly, they want to take her aside and put their arm around her figuratively and say: Look, don't do what Bobby Kennedy did at first. Don't just come here and use this seat to make grand speeches and see it as a podium. Understand that you are for New York and you have got to deliver for New York. She has already been in conversations with Tom Daschle and others, and she is going to be told -- one senator told me, frankly. He is going to take her aside. He is going to say: Make sure you get some amendments or some bill in there that delivers something back for New York.

KAGAN: I've heard one person use an example as someone she might want to model after, Bill Bradley, who knew he was going in as a former NBS star and an Olympian, but really laid low for his first year to kind of feel out his roots and make his place known.

SESNO: The question is will Hillary Clinton lay low?

On the Republicans, though, Daryn, there is an even more honest assessment. I was talking to one very influential Republican senator yesterday, who said, and I am going to quote him here: "We are not going to treat her any different than anybody else. Nobody's going to be bowing and scraping to her. She is not going to be as big a deal in here, as she is perceived as being outside." So there is the shot right across the bow.

KAGAN: But really, for Republicans, can't this, in a way, be a good thing. of course, they don't want a Democrat holding that seat, but she is somebody that many Republicans love to hate.

SESNO: You know something, it's fascinating and I mentioned that very point to this one Republican I was talking to, he said: You know, if she is the face of the Democratic Party, he said, that is fine with me.

KAGAN: that will work out. They will put that to their use as well.

SESNO: Yeah, it is going to be amazing to watch because, you know, we have never had anything like this, among much of the history, and Hillary Rodham Clinton is a galvanizing personality. A lot of people love her, a lot of people really can't stand her, and it is going to bring a very direct, shall we say, dynamic to Washington.

KAGAN: And Frank, I understand that you have a guest with you as well.

SESNO: We do. As we turn the corner on this, let's put this and others things in perspective. Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, he has been a frequent guest of ours, a friend of mine, joins us now.

Bob, let's start on the Hillary Clinton factor first, and then we need to get quickly to the presidency here.

But I want your take on this?

ROBERT DALLEK, POLITICAL HISTORIAN; You know, Frank, there is so much talk already about her being a possible presidential candidate. But I think that is terribly premature. I think that she is a shrewd politician. She understand that she has got to work by the Senate rules, the club. And also, if Al Gore loses this race, loses the presidency, he concedes it in a gentlemanly fashion, I think it is going to make him the front-runner for the Democratic nomination again in 2004, and especially because he looks like he is going to have a 250,000, or a quarter of a million vote lead in the popular column.

So I think it is -- she will lay low for a while. I don't think she's going to go encourage this idea of her being a star and stealing the thunder or limelight from other senators.

SESNO: Bob, as you look in the mirror of this country and look back at experiences we've had and lessons we have learned and look ahead at what is likely to lie down the road, how do you digest and contemplate this remarkable presidential result that we are looking at right now?

DALLEK: Well, you know, Frank, I have thought a lot about this. And it's my impression that, 20, 30, 40 years down the road, historians are going to look back on this as something of a decline of the presidency. There is a lot of talk about voter turnout in this election, but in fact, it is I think roughly 51 percent of the electorate, something like 100 million Americans still do turnout.

I think there is a kind of decline, a kind of eclipse of presidential influence, and it goes back to 1960. And one can trace an arc of problems and issues culminating in Bill Clinton's impeachment and a scandal. Indeed, something like one out of five voters who were voting for George Bush said they were voting pointedly against Bill Clinton..,

SESNO: Is it an era of ambivalence then, or an era of good feeling?

DALLEK: I think that it's very much an era of ambivalence. And I think that the presidency will make a comeback at some point, and I could well imagine a woman being elected as president, restoring the moral authority to the White House. But, for the moment, I think the office is in an eclipse. I think what we can look forward to is a lot of gridlock and a lot of difficulty in getting significant things done.

SESNO: I was talk to somebody yesterday who said the first 100 days will be gridlock.

DALLEK: Yes, I would think so. And after all, if Bush gains the White House, this is a blow to him, to come into the office a quarter of a million votes behind Gore in the popular column, and then he is only going to have 271 electoral votes, two electoral votes putting him across. So it is going to be a very tough season for him.

SESNO: Robert Dallek, thanks very much, appreciate it. DALLEK: My pleasure.

SESNO: So Bill and Daryn, there you have it. Sort of throwing out the red carpet for who knows what, the welcome mat for uncertainty.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed, Frank, thank you very much. And as Frank was talking, I want to go back to Miami now, and pick things up with Mark Potter again. It is still ground zero, the state of Florida.

Mark, new information on a possible recount out there?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not a possible recount. It's a definite recount. They are going to hold it, and the information that we have comes to us now from the Division of Elections in Tallahassee, Florida. And we are told that a recount is mandated by law in a case like this, where the vote is so close.

What we are told is that the recount will be conducted by the supervisors of elections in the various counties around the state, and they must complete the recount by the end of business tomorrow, Thursday. There have been some talk that they could do it today. It will be tomorrow by the end of business.

Now, we are told by a counsel for the office that the supervisors are going to be getting a memo, within the -- probably within a half hour, telling them that they must conduct this recount. And what that means for the supervisors and the authorities there, is that they need to take their machines and recalibrate them, set them back to zero, and start all over again.

They could begin that count today, but they must finish it by the end of business tomorrow. So, that's the latest. It's going to be two days before we know again, the vote. And that will be all the votes in Florida that are in now. The ballots, the absentee ballots and those overseas absentee ballots that are in. There will be some still out that could not be accounted for and that might be a critical factor. But they are trying to get all those in hand counted by the end of business tomorrow.

HEMMER: Mark, two outstanding issues, I mentioned it earlier, the attorney general there, Bob Butterworth, also representing the Gore campaign in Florida, indicated earlier today, several hours ago at this point, that county supervisors are used to recounts in Florida. Is there evidence provided there to follow such a comment?

POTTER: Well, he gives evidence in his own case, I think they recounted one of his elections, and he gave an example of one, where the election was so close, it was -- it was measured by the distance of just one vote. And this is the distance of some 1700 votes. It's a little bigger, but extremely close, given the context here.

So it has happened before. There is this experience, and now, by law, they're going to do it again. HEMMER: All right. And just to be clear, again, the overseas ballots have about a 10-day grace period so long as they are postmarked by election day, which would be November 7th, yesterday. Mark Potter, thanks. We will be back in touch.



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