Inside Report: Gore's snorts

Robert Novak

10/9/2000 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
Although Al Gore's snorting while George W. Bush was speaking in last Tuesday's presidential debate appeared to be something new for the vice president, it stretches back to the first of his 42 campaign debates. In his 1984 race for the Senate in Tennessee against Republican Victor Ashe (later the longtime mayor of Knoxville), Gore snorted when his opponent had the floor. It looked like an attempt to rattle Ashe, and Gore did not employ the tactic in future debates. Gore's advisers have cautioned him to cut it out during the second debate at Wake Forest University. Considering widespread criticism of his demeanor in Boston, the vice president is apt to take the advice. BUSH'S TAX FAILURE WASHINGTON -- Advisers to both Al Gore and George W. Bush agree on this regarding the first debate: Bush did not do an adequate job in defending his tax cuts. While convinced that the tax issue is a good one, Gov. Bush's insiders believe he must do a better job in explaining why the biggest taxpayers get the biggest tax cuts. The Gore team considers this Bush's weak spot and plans for the vice president to keep hitting taxes in subsequent debates. Independent pollster John Zogby agrees, concluding that Bush's slip in his survey stems from his failure to adequately defend his tax position. A footnote: Former President George Bush has been a frequent phone caller lately to Austin, giving advice and seeking information. The candidate's father, who did poorly in the 1992 debates, has been anxious about his son's debate performance. REPUBLICAN PORK The Bush campaign's hopes of attacking big-spending Democrats have been undermined by Senate Republicans, who are leading the way in loading up the transportation appropriations bill with some 80 new projects totaling $58 billion. Bush operatives had talked about trying to get Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to testify about the dangers of spending the surplus, but Republican lawmakers are outdoing President Clinton in increasing government outlays. The new transportation items, earmarked by individual senators for their states, were not contained in the separate bills passed by the House and Senate. A footnote: Senate Democratic Whip Harry Reid is privately telling colleagues there is no way Congress can adjourn for the year within the next two weeks. Republican senators, facing tough re-election battles and desperate to get home to campaign, want to quit now and return after the election for a lame duck session. STROM SURVIVING Republican insiders worried about losing another seat in the Senate were reassured Monday, when 97-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond unexpectedly showed up to preside over the Senate's opening as the chamber's president pro tem. After the latest in a series of collapses, Thurmond was hospitalized last weekend. But he went through his normal though greatly diminished work schedule after opening the Senate Monday and appeared to be in relatively good shape. It is now too late for a special election in South Carolina to be held Nov. 7 to fill a vacancy. The replacement named by Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges would serve for at least two years prior to the 2002 election. SENATOR VS. SPEAKER First-term Sen. Peter Fitzgerald not only publicly filibusters but privately vents his rage at his fellow Illinois Republican, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, for allowing competitive bidding to be stripped from construction of a Lincoln presidential library in Springfield, Ill. It is highly unusual for a rookie lawmaker to feud with the third-ranking official in the U.S. government, but senators from both sides of the aisle are no longer surprised by anything Fitzgerald does. In his long speech to the Senate Wednesday, the senator painted a climate of corruption in past and present Illinois Republican state administrations. A footnote: The Senate Republican leadership long ago realized it cannot expect Fitzgerald's vote on tough issues ranging from health care to gun control. The GOP cloakroom joke: Since millionaire banker Fitzgerald recuses himself from banking legislation, Republicans should redesignate key measures as the health-bank bill or the gun-bank bill.