ANNOUNCER: GE is proud to support the McLaughlin Group. From medical systems to broadcasting, GE -- we bring good things to life.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: We give you Democratic Senator Johnny Cochran Daschle.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD): (From videotape.) The array of anti-minority sentiment expressed almost each week now by Republicans is -- is historic. I have never seen a party become this defiant when it comes to protecting minority rights in my time in public life.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The dreaded race card. Is that what the Democrats are daring to play against the Republicans, targeting, especially, Senator Jesse Helms? Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Helms is opposed to President Clinton's nominee for ambassador to New Zealand, former Illinois Democratic Senator Carol Moseley-Braun.


Helms outlined the ethics cloud that has hung over Moseley-Braun since her 1992 campaign and until her defeat in 1998 -- one, embezzlement from her campaign war chest; two, a criminal campaign manager who was also her fiance; three, her close association with a blood-soaked Nigerian dictator; and four, two IRS investigations that were quietly killed by the Department of Justice.


But Senator Daschle sees a more sinister and widespread motivation in Senator Helms.


SEN. DASCHLE: (From videotape.) Carol Moseley-Braun is just the latest victim of increasing sentiment expressed by an increasing number of Republican senators that I think is very dangerous for this country and very, very harmful to the -- to the progress we've made on minority rights over many decades.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question. Why is Daschle playing the race card so nakedly? Michael Barone.


MR. BARONE: Well, I think we're seeing evidence of the sort of White House war room at work here. The Democrats are kind of calibrating using this charge. It's cheap-shot politics, John, if we were to make voting against a black nominee a indicator of racism. The fact is, most senators would be guilty of racism because most of the Republicans voted against this judicial nominee last week; most of the Democrats voted against Clarence Thomas in 1991. So by his own criteria, Mr. Daschle, I suppose, would have to call himself some kind of a racist or something. And this is cheap politics. There are serious arguments for an against these different nominations that reasonable people can believe, and to drag racism in is really a smear.




MS. CLIFT: Nobody's accusing anybody directly of racism, but the statistics speak for themselves. The people who have been held up the longest for judicial appointments are women and minorities.


And Jesse Helms has made this into a very personal vendetta. He wants Ms. Braun to apologize for having opposed the reissuing a patent of an early Confederate symbol for the DAR. And he has said, "I don't care if she's lily-white; I just don't like her."


And when she was in the Senate, he found himself alone with her in the elevator and started to serenade her with "Dixie" and said he's "going to keep singing 'Dixie' until she cries." She ain't going to cry. (Chuckles.)


MR. WARREN: The fact is --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, hold on.




MR. BLANKLEY: Look, this has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with Bush being ahead in the polls against Gore and Bradley. The Democratic Party, led by the White House, is systematically trying to hit the hot button of their base to start tying negative attitudes about Republicans to the base and to Bush, and to connect those two and bring his numbers down. It has nothing to do with racism. Even they don't believe their own words.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So racism is now being delineated as a blunt instrument to hit the party and, through the party, Dole (sic)?


MR. BLANKLEY: Correct. Bush. Yes.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Bush. And the other instrument, by the way, it seems to be -- is isolationism.


MR. BLANKLEY: Well, that's another piece. Yes, they're going to go systematically through every weakness they can find.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, that's -- yeah, that's the name of the game.


What do you think, James?


MR. WARREN: Senator Cochran -- oh, excuse me, Senator Daschle is --


MR. BLANKLEY: You got it right the first time. (Laughs.)


MR. WARREN: -- is doing this for the exact same reason that Texas Governor George Bush is keeping his distance from parts of the party; because he knows they still, right or wrong, have a distinct image for racial insensitivity.


The fact is, as Michael has said in his own very estimable book, Jesse Helms has -- when it comes to the abandonment of his segregationist views, has done that halfheartedly and grudgingly, at best.


MR. BARONE: How many other Republicans in the Senate would you charge with that, Jim?


MR. WARREN: The fact is --


MR. BARONE: Not very many, if any, I'd think.


MR. WARREN: The fact is, the Republican majority has made sure that judicial nominations of blacks and women have gone a whole lot slower than those of men. The fact is --


MR. BLANKLEY: They're -- (inaudible) --


MR. WARREN: -- the judge from Missouri, who -- just watch this -- happens to be black, is held up, who's got an estimable, moderate voting record. Then --


MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, look, look --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'd like to hear from Tony, then Michael.


MR. BLANKLEY: Look, in the -- when I was in the Reagan administration, the Democratic senators held up the -- for two years Republicans who were being nominated at the bench. This has nothing to do with race or gender. This has to do with being -- the unqualification on the part, from the Republican point of view, of very liberal, extremely liberal, violently liberal judges who will let criminals --


MS. CLIFT: No, you can't -- no --


(Cross talk.)


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear from Eleanor and then Michael.


MS. CLIFT: These appointments have gotten the highest ratings from the ABA, and they're centrist -- they're centrist judges --


(Cross talk.)


MR. BLANKLEY: The ABA is part of the Democratic Party. The ABA is not objective.


MS. CLIFT: Wait a second. Wait, wait, fella --


(Cross talk.)


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Make one more point. Then I want to go to Michael.


MS. CLIFT: The point is that the Republican Party is listening to all the criticism they're getting. The numbers speak for themselves. And you watch; there are going to be hearings on these women and minority candidates. You can defend them all they want; the Republicans are hearing themselves on this.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quick, Michael.


MR. BARONE: The fact is that what they're trying to do generally is hold up nominees that they think are too liberal. I think that's a legitimate objection to make under the Constitution. You can argue -- and there are some serious arguments in this Missouri case -- that they're not fairly portraying the record of this judge. But the argument is not racist.


And as for the American Bar Association, its claim to neutrality is laughable --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And before we move on to Bill Clinton and examine how he has joined the race-baiting game, I want to make it clear that Jesse Helms has an abundance of grounds, does he not, by reason of the odious ethical smell in the background of this woman who has been nominated, Moseley-Braun, to be the ambassador to New Zealand. True or false?


MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, true. The IRS requested a criminal investigation from the Clinton Justice Department regarding her, and the Clinton Justice Department refused to follow it up. So there is every good reason for the Senate to do the job that the Justice Department refused to do, to find out whether she committed --


(Cross talk.)


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- the point of her seven trips over to see the blood-soaked dictator in Nigeria. Is it not true that she failed to give notice to the State Department? And since the ambassador to New Zealand works for the State Department, does --


(Cross talk.)


MR. BARONE: Yes --


MS. CLIFT: Now, wait a second --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- (inaudible) -- a claim that, therefore, we don't appoint that kind of person?


MR. BARONE: (Inaudible) -- it's a problem. What she did was terrible in Nigeria, and it was criticized by many liberals, as well as conservatives.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did she do?


MR. BARONE: She went over there with her fiance, I believe, who had been working --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Cozy Matthews (sp).


MR. BARONE: -- who was a South African citizen, I believe, and who was an agent working for the Nigerian dictator Abacha, whose record has been condemned by people of all decent political stripes. And then she went there without consulting the State Department, which senators and congressmen ordinarily do when they see foreign leaders.


MS. CLIFT: She failed to consult with the State Department. I don't think that holds up as a reason to vote against her.


(Cross talk.)


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The State Department doesn't think that way, Eleanor.


MS. CLIFT: The allegations against her have been exhaustively examined, and there has been no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing. But Jesse Helms is trying to smother this appointment; just like he did William Weld's, he doesn't want to let it out to a vote.


Let --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because of a flag; because of the flag?


MS. CLIFT: -- the Senate vote.


MR. WARREN: One more time.




MR. WARREN: The first comments out of his mouth was that he wanted an apology for this woman for her remarks about the Confederate flag because she embarrassed him big time.


Then we moved on to the trip to Nigeria, when we realized we had probably accepted big time.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. You know her history -- you're from Chicago -- you know it well. You know Cozy Matthews (sp). You know the various points; namely, she embezzled what, $300,000 the charge is?


MR. WARREN: No, she denied the charges, never proven.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Cars, clothing, stereo equipment, jewelry, luxury vacations. The FEC tried to look into it, and they found out that she didn't keep her books properly.


MR. WARREN: And it was not resolved.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And then the Justice Department stayed out.


MR. WARREN: It was not resolved. At best the best case you can make is sloppy bookkeeping. The fact is Jesse Helms is now trying to say this is about something else. And admittedly, she showed awful judgment in going to see somebody whom I might remind you Pope John Paul II saw two years ago.


MR. BLANKLEY: A final point, a final point on this.


The people of Illinois rejected her in the last election because of her ethic problems; why should the Senate have a lower standard than the people of Illinois?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: An excellent point.


MS. CLIFT: Let the Senate vote.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Bill Clinton joins the race-baiting game.


PRESIDENT CLINTON: (From videotape.) Unfortunately, by voting down the first African American judge, who was already serving, the first African American judge to serve on the Missouri State Supreme Court, the Republican-controlled Senate is adding credence to the perception that they treat minority and women judicial nominees unfairly and unequally.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's the minority nominee that Clinton is talking about here, and what is his background? I ask you, Eleanor Clift.


MS. CLIFT: He's Judge Ronnie White. He's the first African American to serve on the federal court in Missouri. He had the endorsement and blessing of the senior senator from Missouri a year ago. He's been waiting for confirmation, nomination vote for a long time. And he has become a pawn in Senator John Ashcroft's senatorial race. Ashcroft wants to make capital punishment an issue against former Governor Mel Carnahan, who commuted the sentence, and he wants to portray Carnahan as soft on crime. It's a bum rap.




MR. WARREN: What this really seems to come down to is there's one deputy sheriff who lost his wife in a horrendous murder. He happened to write a dissent when it came to that particular case on legal ground. The sheriffs were mobilized in Missouri. But in fact, most law enforcement groups have strongly supported this guy.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the Republicans are justified in holding up this nomination on merits, Tony?


MR. BLANKLEY: I think a couple of things. As you get near the end of an administration, the Congress of the other party invariably gets tougher. That's what the Democrats did to Republicans. Nominations coming up in the last year, year and a half of the presidency often get delayed. I think these are partially coming into that, now looking to have the nomination in the next presidential administration. And part of it is he's just too liberal for the Republican Congress.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to add something here before we move in?


MR. BARONE: Well, the fact is that, you know, the argument was made that Chief Justice White was one of these judges -- and there are some on state courts and federal courts, some have been nominated by both parties -- who really twist the law and bend it to prevent death sentences. I don't think that case against Chief Justice White was terribly strong. But I don't think this was a matter of racism. I think it had more to do with Senator Ashcroft's campaign. And --


MR. WARREN: The case against --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Trent Lott -- excuse me. Trent Lott got into the act and had this to say about what the Democrats are doing in their race-baiting. Quote: "That is the kind of thing I would expect the Democrats to make an issue of. For them to have the temerity to talk about how a black nominee for a judicial appointment being defeated, after what they did to Clarence Thomas? Please."

MR. BARONE: Well --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Is Clinton standing tall for minority rights against the white male GOP Senate, or is he irresponsibly inciting racial animosity? Michael Barone.


MR. BARONE: I think obviously it comes much closer to the second. This is cheap politics. And I wonder where all those people are that used to talk to the Republicans and said, "Show a little civility," when you've got charges of racism, of something that's really vile, being handed out on a very weak basis.


MR. WARREN: He's standing --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor. We go in sequence.


MS. CLIFT: The numbers speak for themselves. And the Republicans are going to pay for this because it's going to mobilize minority sentiment against them.




MR. BLANKLEY: As usual, Clinton is cynically motivated and not nobly motivated.


MR. WARREN: He's standing tall for the greater racial sensitivity of the white male Democratic minority in the Senate.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is not an old -- this is not a new strategem of the Democrats, race baiting. It's an unfortunate one. It has no place in American politics. In 1980, Secretary of HHS Patricia Roberts Harris, an African American, said that when she heard Reagan speak, she, quote, "saw the specter of the KKK." Jimmy Carter, in 1980, himself accused Reagan of, quote, "dividing the nation North from South, Christian from Jew, black from white, rural from urban." We can do without that.


Okay, This week we ask, Is Gore picking up enough steam to stop the Bradley surge? Get this: 73 percent, no. New web question this week: Bradley-Gore face-off Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time in New Hampshire. Watch the debate, then log on to and tell us who won.


When we come back, Elizabeth Dole down and out, or back as veep on the GOP ticket?




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Liddy, we hardly knew ye.


MRS. ELIZABETH DOLE (Former presidential candidate): (From videotape.) Steve Forbes has unlimited resources; Governor Bush has raised over $60 million and has about $40 million on hand. My schedule through early December would have taken me to a total of 108 fund-raising events across America. Even then, these rivals would enjoy a 75- or 80-to-one cash advantage. Perhaps I could handle two to one or even 10 to one, but not 80 to one.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole this week took herself out of the White House 2000 running. Her stated reason? Money. Her campaign is starved for it. Question: Was it money that took Dole out of the race, Tony Blankley?


MR. BLANKLEY: No. I mean, in fact, money -- campaign money -- is the effect of a good candidacy and a good campaign; it's not the cause of it. If you have a good candidacy and a good campaign, you're going to raise the money you need to run. She didn't have a good candidacy and a good campaign, so she couldn't raise the money, so she had to get out.


MS. CLIFT: Well, money is part of it when you can't even raise enough to get to the starting line. No votes have been cast. I mean, she was auctioning off the flower centerpieces at lunches for five bucks. That's how desperate she was.


But her problem is that she didn't stick with the issue that she had, which was gun control, and she didn't have a defining issue --




MS. CLIFT: Why is that a joke? That's a commendable issue and --


MR. BLANKLEY: It's the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party!


MS. CLIFT: But it's a women's issue and her whole appeal was to women. I'm your sorority sister. She needed to -- (inaudible due to cross talk) -- into it.


(Cross talk.)


MR. WARREN: An interesting --


MR. BLANKLEY: She wasn't getting -- she wasn't getting --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, she was running against her base when she said that. Against her base. When she took the position --


MS. CLIFT: No, not the Republican Party establishment base. I don't think so.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, when she made a whipping boy out of the NRA, that's when her donations began to fall off.


MR. WARREN: And interestingly enough, she began losing women in polls to Governor Bush of Texas. Though it seems to me why this is so ignominious, and I agree that, you know, it's a cop out --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's ignominious?


MR. WARREN: Her getting out, why it's sort of an ignominious admission of defeat, is that she failed to exploit some tremendous, seemingly inherent early advantages --


MS. CLIFT: Right.


MR. WARREN: -- her celebrity and the very historic nature of her candidacy, so -- she's left --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michael, don't --


(Cross talk.)


MR. BARONE: I think -- John -- John --


MR. WARREN: -- she's left, Michael, just being associated with only one thing -- her gender.


MR. BARONE: Well --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that her major strategic mistake was that she did not run as a Democrat?


MR. BARONE: Well, I think --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Listen to what I said.


MR. BARONE: No, John. Well, if she was going to do the gun control issue in Eleanor's platform, that's right. The fact is that the major strategic mistake that she made and that Dan Quayle made and Lamar Alexander made and John Kasich made was running in a year when it turned out not just the money primary, but the whole political base the Republican Party wants to go with George W. Bush. I mean --


(Cross talk.)


MR. BARONE: -- (inaudible) -- but, John, the fact is -- let me finish, Eleanor -- you know, Bush has gotten -- 146,000 people have contributed to him. That's about the magnitude or number of people that vote in the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, quickly.


MS. CLIFT: She was too cautious because of her personality and her temperament to stick with any issue. Maybe gun control; I think that was a good issue. But she needed something, that she needed to go out there and really push. She should have had a whistle-stop tour across the country.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will she be back as a vice presidential pick, yes or no, Tony?


MR. BLANKLEY: I mean, that's a decision that the nominee isn't going to make until July.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, is that right, Tony? Is that right? Thanks. (Laughter.) Are you Dick Tracy here today?




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're telling me the nominee he's going to pick or who's going to run --


MR. BLANKLEY: No, no. The nominee is not going to make that decision until July of next year.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I know. I am asking you. Is she going to be back?


MR. BLANKLEY: And my guess is not. (Laughter.)


MR. BARONE: Ah, great. If you want a quick answer -- (laughs) --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is she going to be back as a vice presidential pick?


MR. WARREN: No, she will not be back again. This was ignominious. There was not one single issue she effectively exploited.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, that's not the reason. The reason is that she has alienated too many GOP constituencies.


Okay. "The Empire Strikes Back."


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (From videotape.) Well, I am proud to be the leader of those who think that this is a terrible bill, and I am glad we killed it and hope to be able to kill it every time it raises its head again.


What I probably take credit for is defending the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prevents the government from being in charge of the political discussion in this country.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's GOP Senator Mitch McConnell, a.k.a. Darth Vader to his detractors, crowing this week at the Senate defeat of campaign finance reform. The dead legislation would have banned so-called soft-money contributions, donations, for the use of political party-building activities, not directly for candidates.


McConnell got some unexpected outside backers, who helped in the defeat of the proposed legislation.


SEN. MCCONNELL: (From videotape.) Yeah, I am proud to be on the same side at the United States Supreme Court on this issue and the American Civil Liberties Union, which is America's experts on the First Amendment, and Floyd Abrams, the most important First Amendment lawyer in America, who happens -- (end of video clip.)


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was this rejection of campaign finance so-called reform a victory for free speech, or was it a victory for political corruption?


James Warren?


MR. WARREN: I go with corruption. The fact is also that a majority of senators still voted against it. The fact is the Mitch McConnell linkage of free speech with campaign fundraising is bogus; it is involves a bogus interpretation of the relevant U.S. Supreme Court decision. If you want to see a terrific analysis of this, look at a new book by Elizabeth Drew called "The Corruption of American Politics."


And the fact is also that there weren't as many people as we believed on the other side, the Democratic side, who wanted this to go through; they wanted to play both ends because all these guys want the big bucks.




MR. BLANKLEY: Look, obviously I disagree. I think this is a clear First Amendment issue. But it's also the case that money has some influence. And I think in this case you have both the right to raise and spend the money, and it will have some influential consequences. That's the reality of the world.


MS. CLIFT: But reform is going to happen. It may be over McConnell's dead body. I think the Senate is going to change enough votes, come 2000, that this inevitable. They've got to --


MR. BARONE: I would have to disagree. I would have to disagree totally.


John, I mean, it's interesting, the press in this country really presents a sort of biased account. Campaign finance, which was far short of passing, the so-called reform bill, only gets 52 votes in the Senate. That's front-page headlines in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The partial-birth abortion ban gets 65 votes in the U.S. Senate, two votes shy of overriding Bill Clinton's veto. That's in a little tiny package here --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --


MS. CLIFT: As well it should because --


MR. BARONE: The newspapers --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's move on here.


MR. BARONE: The newspapers --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I have a question. Do you mind? Do you mind?


MS. CLIFT: Oh, I'm happy --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, you're happy


MS. CLIFT: -- if you can move on from Mr. Barone on partial-birth abortion, I'm all for it! (Laughs.)


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll put your happiness to the test.


Now, I want to say this. Do you think that what limits competition is really money or the lack thereof, or do you think it is not a compressed primary calendar? That sounds a little esoteric, but I know you understand.


MR. BARONE: Well, the primary --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What happens is that the gray beards in both parties and the pundits and the contributors have decided that we're going to push the primary calendar together in order to squeeze out someone who might be able to get in, win a primary and beginning pulling money.


MR. BARONE: Well, this is --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In other words, you've got to have loads of dough going in --




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- because everything takes place in the first month and a half, if that amount of time.


MR. BARONE: It's got to go --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They want to establish the front-runner early.


MR. BARONE: John, that's --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They don't want him to waste his resources in a primary challenge -- just a minute. They want him to conserve his resources so that he'll use them or she will use them in the general election. That is dirty pool. They ought to release that calendar and let more people in. Is that true or false?


MR. BARONE: Well, the fact is, the calendar -- the presidential nominees of both parties will be chosen between January 24th; the Iowa caucuses on March 7th, if not before.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Highly compressed.


MR. BARONE: That has come about primarily because of the Democratic Party, but also because Iowa and New Hampshire want to be first. The state legislatures are competing.


One of the aspects of the current campaign finance laws, passed in 1974, that makes it hard for candidates like Elizabeth Dole to raise money is the thousand dollar contribution limit. That has been eroded by two-thirds since 1974 and it's not even --


MS. CLIFT: Yeah, look, the whole system --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you understand my point on the compression of the calendar?




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That it squeezes out any possible entrant who is not the front-runner, who has been designated such?


MR. BARONE: Late entry is out.




MR. BARONE: Late entry is out --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Late entry is out.


MR. BARONE: -- and the money primary is proving to be nearly dispositive in the Republican race.


MS. CLIFT: John, you're right but, you know, there are other ways the system is rigged. And where the money goes is television time.


MR. WARREN: John -- right.


MS. CLIFT: Broadcasters need to think about giving free or cheap time --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right.


MR. WARREN: Yours is a good idea. For your benefit, we're going to move New Hampshire and Iowa to June and July of next year.


MS. CLIFT: (Chuckles.)


MR. WARREN: But you still need campaign finance reform. And Michael talked about votes. The House passed this big --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll be right back with predictions.




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: Bradley-Gore debate Wednesday night, New Hampshire, 8:00 Eastern Standard Time. Who's going to win?


MR. BARONE: Bradley.




MS. CLIFT: The rules are so rigged, it'll be a draw.




MR. BLANKLEY: Bradley beats expectations.




MR. WARREN: The winner is pro wrestling on cable TV. They'll both put us to sleep.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who's going to win?


MR. WARREN: They'll both put us to sleep. A draw.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is a draw.









MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: A struggling scandal.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX): (From videotape.) I believe it's important to put a stake in the ground and to say, "Enough is enough" when it comes to trying to dig up people's background in politics.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Unsubstantiated charges of cocaine use have been plaguing Governor George W. Bush for months. Last week a new so-called biography of Bush -- "Fortunate Son" is the title, by J.H. Hatfield -- gave the rumors new life. The book alleges that a 25-year-old Bush was arrested for possession of cocaine in Harris County, Texas, in 1972, but that his dad got his record expunged by a local judge, a Republican, in exchange for making W. do a few months of community service. Hatfield quotes three anonymous sources, only anonymous.


W. Bush and his father both denied the story.


"It's totally ridiculous. It's not true. And I would hope responsible journalists would not respond to science fiction," said W.


"He has insulted our son's character and my character, and I resent it. This kind of nasty, groundless attack is the reason that many good people are unwilling to enter politics. I am proud that George is willing and strong enough to take the heat, even in the face of this kind of mindless garbage."


Carol Vance, Harris County's Democratic district attorney in 1972, says there were no Republican judges at the time. More importantly, Vance added, quote, "I would have known about any such charge, had such a thing occurred, and so would most everyone in the courthouse, including most of, if not all of, the some 100 assistant district attorneys."


Now the author, J.H. Hatfield, has been discredited. He is apparently the same James Howard Hatfield that spent five years in jail after pleading guilty to hiring a hit man 12 years ago to kill his boss. On Thursday, Hatfield disappeared, and publisher St. Martin's Press suspended publication of the book.


Question: Is this book the best thing Bush could have hoped for? Jim Warren.


MR. WARREN: Bush is lucky. Richard Nixon got Bob Woodward on his case; this guy gets Hatfield, who probably will go from being on C-SPAN's "Booknotes" to being on maybe "America's Most Wanted."


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, if a baseless charge is raised, that also raises the requirement of the burden of proof, and the press develops an unequal and a disproportionate resistance to future stories on Bush because they have to clear a higher hurdle.


MR. BARONE: John, one of the things that's interesting that you just quoted was the district attorney, Carol Vance, saying that the DA and hundreds of people in the office, or at least a hundred, would know if any such charge had been made. And I suppose that could be true at any time. The people who have been sort of dying to find a cocaine vial in George W. Bush's past really have to get over the hurdle, but there seems not to be any evidence of this at all.