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Election 2000: Gore and Bush Face Off in Their First Presidential DebateAired October 3, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: They've been slugging it out all year...
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GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, he has flip-flopped on the issue.
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ANNOUNCER: ... long distance...
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AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Several people have asked our opponents and they haven't answered it.
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ANNOUNCER: ... through caucuses, primaries and conventions...
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BUSH: God bless America.
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GORE: God bless America.
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ANNOUNCER: ... battling the ups and downs of public opinion, now locked in the closest presidential election campaign in 20 years.
Over the next 14 days, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush square off in three decisive debates: a former reporter and an ex-oil man, Ivy League scions of political dynasties face to face on a national stage that will propel one of them to the presidency of the United States.
Tonight, from Boston, we bring you the first of those debates. And later, we'll see how voters react. We'll take you to Florida, a key battleground state, for a "CNN & TIME" town meeting.
Now, from the CNN election desk, here's Judy Woodruff.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.
One hour from now, Al Gore and George W. Bush meet for the most crucial single event so far in their contest to be president. During the next hour, we will talk to CNN reporters and analysts, we'll talk to spokesmen for the Bush and Gore campaigns, and a group of undecided voters in Florida: the kind of voters who will decide this election.
Just five weeks until election day, the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll highlights the importance of tonight's debate and the potential impact of those undecided.
In the poll, Al Gore is at 46 percent, George W. Bush at 44 percent. The two men have been in a statistical dead-heat for 10 straight days.
Well, we start our coverage with two of our senior correspondents, who have followed this race from its beginnings this year in the cold of Iowa, and even before. Joining us from the debate site at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, CNN senior White House correspondent John King and CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.
Candy, we go to you first.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, high noon comes to Boston at 9:00 p.m.: no confetti, no banners, no able advisers, just Al Gore and George Bush.
BUSH: Tonight's not the night for gimmicks. Tonight is the night for talking about heart, compassion and vision.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Bush's goal is to show himself as a man of substance, ready for primetime, ready for the Oval Office. He needs an error-free powerful evening. Bush will emphasize his education agenda, a subject on which he expounds comfortably; his Social Security reform plan, which he believes has resonance among swing voters; his defense policies and his plans to revamp Medicare.
Aides say Bush is also prepared and eager to defend his across- the-board tax cut, which they fully expect Al Gore to target.
There will be a single theme in Bush's policy talk, a bright line he wants to paint for voters. His agenda, he will argue, gives more freedom to Americans. Gore's agenda, he will say, gives more power to the government. But there is a broader picture that plays to what strategists see as a key Bush strength. In the end, the Bush camp wants viewers to know not just the details of policy, but the nature of the man.
KARL ROVE, SENIOR BUSH STRATEGISTS: What they'll really walk away with is a knowledge of what kind of person he is: that he's plain-spoken, that he's a strong leader, that he's somebody who has firm opinions that don't bend with the wind or the latest focus group or poll.
CROWLEY: Bush is ready to use this side-by-side event to highlight instances where he believes Al Gore has changed positions for political gain.
With polls showing some lingering questions about his readiness for the job, Bush needs to show himself a man of substance with the personal qualities that would make voters comfortable to have him in the Oval Office for four years. As he arrived in Boston, Bush was described by aides as serene and in the zone.
CROWLEY: What he needs to avoid are the danger zones. For months, Bush has been pummeled on late-night TV for his grammatical slips. His critics have tried to frame his as a lightweight beginner. For tonight, there is no danger for Bush except if he slips into those mistake -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Candy, and we're going to come back to you in just a moment. But right now, let's go to our senior White House correspondent John King -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, this is a moment the vice president has been preparing for all his adult life. He's had his eyes on the presidency, the theme from "Rocky" playing a short time ago as the vice president left his hotel to head here to the University of Massachusetts at Boston campus. Aides say a strong performance tonight, in their view, could be the decisive moment in the race for the White House.
KING (voice-over): The vice president's goal is to keep it relaxed, polite and focused on familiar policy differences with Governor Bush. Gore won the coin toss and gets the first answer at tonight's debate. Senior advisers say the vice president will look for every opportunity to draw contrasts on three key issues: health care, education and taxes. The more specific the better in the Gore camp's view.
TAD DEVINE, GORE SENIOR ADVISER: Our goal here is not to surprise anyone but to make sure that they understand the details behind the policy proposals.
KING: The vice president is betting the election will break his way if he can stress these points. On health care: that he favors a prescription drug benefit for all elderly Americans through the Medicare program while Bush relies on insurance companies and HMOs to cover all but low-income seniors. On taxes: that his $500 million mix of targeted tax cuts for things like college costs, health care and retirement savings is a better approach than the governor's $1.3 trillion across-the-board tax cut plan. And on education: that Bush's support of using tax dollars for private school vouchers is a threat to public education.
Stay the course will be the vice president's theme on the economy, the debate issue that most worries Republicans in the big battleground states.
CURT STEINER, GOP STRATEGIST: And one of the things unfortunately that is going to work to the vice president's advantage in this election cycle is going to be that it's generally going to be a pro-incumbent environment in Ohio. And to the extent that Gore can claim that incumbency mantle, unfortunately, that's going to be a little bit of an advantage for him.
KING: It will be a familiar setting. Gore's resume includes more than 40 televised debates dating back to his days in Congress.
KING: But the stakes, of course, tonight could not be higher: an estimated 60 to 75 million Americans tuning in. Both campaigns realizing the stakes, out already with what they call prebuttals, this one distributed first by the Gore campaign. The Bush campaign quick to follow. As the American people watch tonight, the campaigns also actively trying to shape the media coverage -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, John, and let's bring Candy back in. Speaking of those prebuttals or whatever we're calling them, Candy, what is it that the Bush people are saying ahead of time is the message they want to get out no matter what Vice President Gore says?
CROWLEY: This campaign, Judy, from the beginning, a year and a half ago in June of last year, has really been framed on one issue, and that is leadership. The governor has sold himself as a man who provided leadership in Texas, who can work across the aisles. And everything that he goes to tonight will have that as a subtext.
He will talk policy, he will talk specifics. But all of that goes into that one underlying core belief, and that is that what people are looking for out there is leadership, and George Bush is selling himself as the man who can provide it.
WOODRUFF: Well, John King, if that's what Governor Bush is going to be saying, how does the vice president counter that?
KING: Well, the vice president tries to counter it by making experience his trump card, making the case, especially if international policy comes up, something not discussed every day on the campaign trail, that he is more prepared to assume the presidency.
Another key strategy for the Gore campaign, they give the governor credit. They believe he has moved back to the middle of the electorate after courting the conservative base in the Republican primaries. They want to push him back to the right and try to court independent voters by bringing up his support for privatizing some of Social Security, by bringing up his opposition to abortion rights, if that is possible. They want to try to make Governor Bush more of a conservative, much harder because he's from outside of Washington. He doesn't have the baggage, say, that Bob Dole had four years ago when President Clinton tried to tie him to the controversial House speaker at the time, Newt Gingrich.
WOODRUFF: All right, John King, Candy Crowley, and we'll be hearing much more from you two as the evening goes on. Thank you both.
Well, CNN's coverage wouldn't be complete without hearing from two of our veteran political analysts. CNN's Jeff Greenfield and Bill Schneider join me to talk about what could be a defining moment. Although we all hate that term, we seem to say it over and over and over again.
Bill, we've been talking today about these "undecideds," these people who are supposedly -- could tip the election one way or another. Who are these people? Where are they?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the conventional wisdom is that both of these campaigns are targeting those undecided voters, but they're really different kinds of undecided voters, Judy.
They're just 6 percent of the voters right now who say they're truly undecided, but there are three times as many voters who are now supporting one of the major candidates, but also say they could change their minds. What's the difference between those undecided voters and the swing voters?
Take a look. The swing voters are pretty upscale. Almost half of them have high incomes, over $50,000. Undecided voters are more downscale. Fewer than one in four have incomes that high. And a lot of them are politically uninvolved in the election. You have to reach them through talk shows and late-night comedy shows.
Now, it's those, the larger group of swing voters who are really important in this election, because they're the ones who move back and forth. Remember, Bush was ahead for a while, then Gore was ahead last month, now it's a dead-heat.
When you've got a dead heat, it is tempting to say that the voters are deeply polarized between the two warring camps, that they're fighting over those undecideds. But that isn't what's happening right now. What's happening is the voters, in my view, are really very "two-minded" about this election. They could vote for either Bush or Gore. They want a change of leadership, which brings them to Bush, but they want a change -- they do not want a change of direction in the country, and that leads them to stick with Gore. And that's what makes this election so unpredictable. WOODRUFF: All right, Jeff Greenfield, another interesting, I think, point we want to make about tonight is that this debate is being held in Boston. Now, we know the Bush people originally didn't want a debate in the state of Massachusetts, the heavily Democratic state of Massachusetts. But there is some historical significance, clearly.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, this debate actually is taking place about -- very close to the John F. Kennedy Library. And one of the symbols of that, is that 40 years ago, the Nixon- Kennedy debates did introduce something into American politics we had never had before: presidential debates.
We went 16 years without them. But then in '76, when an embattled Gerald Ford challenged his outsider incumbent to a debate, they became a permanent part of the process. The other reason that I think it's interesting historically is from the very -- literally, the very first debate, atmospherics trumped issues.
All anybody remembers of that first debate is that Richard Nixon looked like he had just undergone root canal. And what we have created, in a sense, is not just a debate between two candidates on issues, but almost a kind of modern trial by ordeal. We throw them into this pit. All of the press is watching for a smirk, a sweaty upper lip.
And if they survive, they have a shot at that, being president. I'm not sure this is what the Lincoln-Douglas debates were about. But it really has become a very unusual mix of the serious and the stylistic.
WOODRUFF: And so, what happened in 1960 really launched all this. I mean, when you had John Kennedy -- who, at that point, was underestimated -- he was believed to be the lightweight United States senator.
GREENFIELD: He had -- he had much the problem of any outsider against a more experienced fellow. What Bill Schneider now calls the "stature gap" was closed in that first debate. And the sign of it was not so much polling. We were much less sophisticated back then, for good or ill.
But the crowds got bigger after that first debate. The Democrats who were fence-sitters, weren't sure Kennedy could win, started showing up at his rallies. And that changed American politics permanently. And you could argue that we put too much emphasis on these debates. But, you know, at a time when so much of these campaigns lack all spontaneity, the very fact these things are live and there is some chance for something unexpected to happen, makes it a fascinating 90 minutes.
WOODRUFF: Makes it riveting television.
GREENFIELD: Well, we'll see.
WOODRUFF: All right. It will be. We promise. GREENFIELD: OK.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jeff Greenfield and Bill Schneider. We'll be back to both of you.
But coming up next: the pre-debate spin. Spokesmen from both campaigns will join us with their perspective. And later, we check in with a CNN/"TIME" town meeting in the battleground state of Florida to hear the voice of the undecided.
WOODRUFF: Both campaigns insist their man is ready for tonight's debate. And with the race locked in a dead heat, both sides are eager to get their message out to the all-important undecided.
And joining us now with inside perspective, Bush campaign senior adviser Ari Fleischer, and Gore campaign spokesman, Chris Lehane.
Chris Lehane, to you first. The consensus among the observers, the experts, seems to be that, among other thing, what the vice president has got to do tonight is to show a warmth, a likability, that, for all of his knowledge, doesn't often come across.
CHRIS LEHANE, SPOKESMAN, GORE CAMPAIGN: Well, the great thing about this debate tonight is that 75 million people will be watching. It gives Al Gore a great opportunity to lay out the issues, the specifics, the substance.
What we know from our experience at the Democratic Convention is that the American people really want to hear about ideas. They want to hear specifics. They want to hear issues. And we know that Al Gore is offering the right agenda for America's future. He wants to use our prosperity to benefit all of our people. And we know people respond to that.
WOODRUFF: So the warmth and the likability -- what?
LEHANE: I think people want to know that their president is going to roll up his or her sleeves and fight for them. They want to know they are going have a fighter in the Oval Office for them and their families. Al Gore has a long, long track record of taking on the big, powerful special interests that stand in the way of working families.
And they know, in Al Gore, they have someone who will fight for them.
WOODRUFF: Well, Ari Fleischer, let me -- let me put a -- the analysis that we're getting from a lot of the experts today, and that is that what Governor Bush needs to do is to demonstrate that he is up to the job. And it's a sort of mirror image of what the vice president needs to do. ARI FLEISCHER, BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: Well, Judy, I will answer your question. This is an important moment. And it is important for the voters to be able to look at the two candidates with their own eyes and with their own ears and make that determination about who is up to the job, who does have command of the issues, who is a leader and who is the type of leader who can bring people together.
And I think that's what you're going to see up on the stage tonight. Governor Bush is looking forward, particularly, to discussing education. He has a plan to help improve education. That's what tonight's about: a discussion of the issues.
WOODRUFF: Chris Lehane, what is it that we can count on the vice president to take apart, if you will, in Governor Bush's positions?
LEHANE: Well, there are two very, very different competing visions for America's future that you will see tonight. Al Gore wants to use our prosperity in a responsible way, pay down the debt, invest in our priorities. The Governor, on the other hand, has this massive tax cut that benefits the very, very few at the expense of the very many.
It does not pay down the debt. It doesn't do anything, because of this tax cut, to really invest in our priorities. He's going to be forced tonight to defend the indefensible and explain the unexplainable: why he wants to use our budget prosperity for the very wealthy and not the very many.
WOODRUFF: And, on the other hand, Ari Fleischer, what about Governor Bush? What is it about the vice president's set of positions that we can count on him to try to take apart?
FLEISCHER: Well, Judy, this is a very close race. And it's going to be important, the decisions that people make, based on what they hear tonight, because people are going to have a distinct choice between a vision of government that says: Government knows best, it can make all the decisions for the public. Keep sending those tax dollars to Washington. Washington can invent the new spending program to figure out how best to solve people's problems.
Or a governor who has successfully brought Democrats and Republicans together to empower people, to empower parents through educating their children, to empower families by giving the largest tax cuts in Texas' history, something he wants to do on the national level to provide tax relief, and particularly, to get prescription drugs to our nation's seniors.
Those are the choices people have. That's what we're going to be taking a look at. And it really comes down to whether you want a big government that's going to make all those decisions, do those things for you, or a government that will work with you and trust you and empower you to solve the problems in your life.
GREENFIELD; Gentlemen, it's Jeff Greenfield. I've got a question for both of you. I'd like to start with you, Chris. Is there anything of a political or public-policy nature about the other guy that has impressed you? Being a good husband and father and a good dresser doesn't count. But as you slog through this last year, as you look across the isle, Chris, can you say that there's something about -- anything about Governor Bush where you have said, "not bad"?
LEHANE: Well, I think he's done an incredibly good job of not explaining any of the details of his major programs. He hasn't...
GREENFIELD: Chris, that doesn't -- no, no. That doesn't count. I mean, seriously. I mean, let's not spin it. Just for once, anything about Governor Bush that you can legitimately say not bad?
LEHANE: You know, we, the governor and the vice president, are on agreement that we do need accountability in our public schools. That's something that we've been very forceful on. It's something the governor has talked about. We are in agreement on that issue.
I would also add, though, that we also believe that you need to support our students, which is why we want to use our surplus and prosperity to invest significantly in our schools. But yes, on the issue of accountability, I think both candidates are on agreement.
GREENFIELD: All right. Now, Ari, that was actually a mildly positive thing. Can you reply in kind?
FLEISCHER: It was. I think it shows that they're weak on accountability, and so they want to pretend that they have a strong...
GREENFIELD: Come on now. Come on. Play up.
FLEISCHER: I think you do have to give credit to Al Gore's debating skills, frankly. You know, he did serve in the House of Representatives and the Senate for a number of years, more than 12. He's a career legislator. He's got a wealth of experience in filibusters and debating issues on the floor, and I think that's going to come in handy for the vice president tonight.
He is a strong debater. The governor's experience is in a different area. But he did pretty well in the primaries himself debating. And we'll be all testing that tonight, and I think it's going to be a very interesting contest for the voters to watch tonight.
WOODRUFF: All right, Ari Fleischer, Chris Lehane, thank you both. We'll be watching you both after this debate.
GREENFIELD: And after this break coming up, we will step back from election 2000 for a check on some other news, and something to keep in mind as you watch tonight's debate: You can also log on and enter -- quote -- "the spin room" for some real-time perspective from analysts Bill Press and Tucker Carlson. That's at cnn.com/election2000.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: 35 minutes from now, that's where Al Gore and George W. Bush will stand. Moderator Jim Lehrer will be seated there in the middle at that desk. They will be there for their first of three presidential debates.
The scene is the Clark Athletic Center at the University of Massachusetts' Boston campus.
Let's check in now with "THE WORLD TODAY'S" Joie Chen for this day's other top story -- Joie.
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Judy, we want to bring our viewers up to date, breaking away from political coverage just long enough to bring our viewers up to date on this very important story.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is set to hold talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Paris tomorrow amid the escalating violence in the Middle East. The level of bloodshed in the Palestinian-controlled territories is now being likened to a war.
In the West Bank, Palestinian rioters fired on an Israeli enclave, shattering a brief cease-fire today. In Gaza, Israeli helicopter gunships were brought in against stone-throwing Palestinians at a crossing point. More than 50 people have been killed in six days of violence following a visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to one of Jerusalem's most hotly contested holy sites.
Leaders from both sides are placing the blame squarely on each other.
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EHUD BARAK, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I'm not a prophet. We're trying to calm down the situation. We expect the Palestinian Authority to live up to its responsibilities to put an end to the shooting by the Tanzim, which is a street organization of the Fatah, and the Palestinian police against Israelis.
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SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: We've been asking for a commission of inquirers, an independent commission of inquirers to come and see for themselves, because as long as we don't have this coming, the Israelis will continue shooting and at the same time blaming us and finger-pointing and talking about a cease-fire as if the two armies are clashing. No, it's not two armies that are clashing. It's one army. The Israeli army is shooting and Palestinian children who are dying!
(END VIDEO CLIP) CHEN: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright plans to bring Prime Minister Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat together at the Paris talks.
Now we go back to Judy Woodruff and CNN's coverage of the upcoming presidential debate -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Thanks, Joie, and I want to remind our viewers there's a familiar face who happens to be missing tonight from our coverage. Of course, he's our colleague Bernie Shaw. He happens to be the moderator of Thursday night's vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky.
Bernie is already headed to Danville. That's where he will be for the next few days, and we will be talking with him Thursday night after that debate.
Coming up next, though, in this special program leading up to tonight's presidential tonight, we'll talk to two Washington bureau chiefs, CNN's Frank Sesno, "TIME" magazine's Michael Duffy. They've been working the phones. We'll get their perspective. And a little bit later, Wolf Blitzer with some undecided voters in Florida. We'll be back.
WOODRUFF: Live pictures from Tampa, Florida, a group of undecided voters. They will be talking to our own Wolf Blitzer in just a few moments. We'll be going right back to them.
And welcome back to CNN's special preview of the first presidential debate of election 2000. Just half an hour from now, Al Gore and George W. Bush will be face to face for 90 minutes on the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts in front of a television audience that is estimated could be as many as 75 million viewers.
Now, we want to turn to two veterans of these major political events, who have extensive contacts in both campaigns: CNN's Washington bureau chief, Frank Sesno, and the Washington bureau chief for "TIME" magazine, Michael Duffy.
Gentlemen, it's great to see you both. Thanks for joining us.
FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Great to see you, as always.
WOODRUFF: You both have been talking, among other things, to folks in the Gore and the Bush campaigns. Frank, why don't you start us off? What are you hearing? What are they telling you?
SESNO: Well, we're hearing a lot of things. And Mike, I know you and I have been kind of hearing somewhat flip sides of the same coin here, which is to say that what's going to happen tonight should not be scene as a snapshot, that a snapshot is important. This is a continuum. It's going to go over several days. They're looking at the week. I'm told it starts and ends bracketed by these debates. Look at Thursday night as well: the vice presidential. It takes a couple days for these opinions to settle out. What I'm being told anyway is, we'll have a pretty good sense as to how the enduring bounce or impact or dynamic has changed by the weekend.
MICHAEL DUFFY, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": That's right. And there are really two debates going on. There's the one that starts in 30 minutes. And there's this desk (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the one that's happening on television screens all across America. Because even as the debates go on -- whatever the tone we see tonight -- there is a whole different one in the television advertisements.
And both campaigns have begun to ramp up considerably the amount of money -- in this key period -- the amount of money they are spending in the key states -- Florida, Michigan, Ohio -- on issues like education and prescription drugs. And so, all along, there's -- as soon as this debate ends, there is going to be a whole other wave of ads that hit the air tonight to sort of, you know, buttress what these guys are saying.
SESNO: And in the end, they are playing for a narrow audience. What is estimated is there are about 10 percent of Bush supporters who are wavering enough; 10 percent of Gore supporters wavering enough to be influenced by all this -- about 10 percent in the middle -- two groups that I'm told, one group that doesn't really care, and the other group that is really deeply conflicted -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Frank, you both -- you and Michael both have been talking, as well, to the campaigns. You've been talking to their Washington allies, the folks there in the nation's capitol who watch these things year-round, 365 days a year. They have concerns, clearly, going into tonight.
What are they?
DUFFY: Well, the Gore campaign, I think, its allies really wanted to see four words: more Mr. Nice guy. They know that Al Gore is really good on the issues. But they want to make sure that he comes across as personable and doesn't overdo it on the attacks. And they say if George Bush goes looking tonight for the attack dog in Al Gore, that he'll come home empty-handed.
They remind us -- when you talk to them, they remind us that when Jack Kemp and Al Gore debated four years ago, the vice president sort of changed the tone of the thing right at the top by sort of showering, smothering Kemp with deference and respect. And it threw Kemp completely off his game. Gore often does this in the first few minutes of a debate. He bangs the gong early. And so they are looking for Gore to do that.
SESNO: Meanwhile, from Bush, a couple of very senior Republicans on the Hill I was talking to today said they were a bit nervous, a bit nervous that on some of these issues -- and on the heft question -- that it may not be there. The "soft underbelly" -- that's a quote from a ranking Republican -- was the way one person described Bush's tax plan. As a result, the Bush camp is saying: Watch us very closely. We'll do a little math to show that it ads up -- because that's one of Al Gore's charges, is that it doesn't -- and we're going to hit hard the question of fairness: that the tax plan is simple and it's fair and it can work.
DUFFY: Right, they don't want to hit just taxes, because they know that that doesn't help them with that key group of people you're talking about: those swing voters that they need to convince tonight.
SESNO: That's right -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Frank Sesno, Michael Duffy, we always like to know what you guys are hearing. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.
And we're going to take a break. When we come back, Wolf Blitzer with those voters in Tampa. We'll be right back.
WOODRUFF: This is the scene at this hour in Boston, Massachusetts, the Clark Athletic Center at the University of Massachusetts, Boston Campus. The setting you see carefully agreed to by the Bush and Gore campaigns: each lectern 48 inches high. That was the subject of discussion. The Bush campaign wanted it a little bit lower.
In the end, they agreed on this height. They have talked about the temperature of the room. They have talked about microphones. Nothing has been left to chance. In fact, there is an agreement between the two campaigns that goes on for dozens of pages.
You see standing there on the stage, the two co-chairs of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf on the left, former chairman of the Republican Party, and on the right, Paul Kirk, former chairman of the Democratic Party -- Jeff Greenfield.
GREENFIELD: We should mention that this is -- that one of the winners of this debate is the commission, because, in past years, the candidates have kind of changed the formats, changed the timings. In this case, we remember Governor Bush's campaign wanted only one commission debate, and then a Larry King and a Tim Russert debate.
GREENFIELD: And it turns out the commission runs all four of these debates in the cities that they wanted.
WOODRUFF: And the Bush campaign didn't want it as Boston as well. This is the "spin room," for lack of a better term. That's we call it. This is where the reporters are gathered to write their stories on their laptop computers. There are probably as many campaign representatives in that room -- if there aren't now, there will be right after the debate -- as there are reporters.
I think it's a one-to-one ratio of campaign spinners to reporters waiting to be told exactly what happened.
GREENFIELD: And they will be putting out their rebuttals. Some of them have already. But I'm always amused when I'm up there, that 30 minutes into the debate, with an hour to go, the campaign starts showering you with instant pieces of paper, proving that their guy won and the other guy was a complete moron.
WOODRUFF: And it always starts before the debate is over.
GREENFIELD: Before the debate absolutely ends. One day, we are going to see a candidate fall to the ground in a dead faint. And the spin doctor is going to come out and say it was a great victory.
WOODRUFF: All right.
SCHNEIDER: ... tells the story of a spin room, where a candidate -- where a candidate supporter got up and started talking and talking. And all the reporters were taking notes. And finally, the candidate's spokesman walked away. And the reporters looked at each other and said, "Who was that?"
WOODRUFF: Well, we'll join CNN's Wolf Blitzer for a town meeting in a moment. We've been telling you about it. But first, a snapshot of the -- let's go to Wolf. Let's go -- let's right now go to a snapshot of the national picture on the CNN electoral map.
Based on our analysis, Vice President Gore has the lead in 15 states, including California, New York, and Pennsylvania. That gives him a total of 215 electoral votes. Governor Bush: 21 states in his column, for a total of 176 electoral votes. Bush's power base lies mainly in the South and in the Rocky Mountain region. But there are still plenty of undecided voters. We've been talking about them, with 147 electoral votes up for grabs in 14 states, including Tennessee, the home state of Al Gore.
And now, let's go back to Tampa, Florida, where CNN's Wolf Blitzer is going to host a town meeting -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Judy, we're at the University of Tampa; the Plant Hall, Fletcher Lounge here, a beautiful campus. We've come here for two objectives.
First objective: to speak to so-called undecided swing voters, what we call persuadable voters, voters who may be leaning one way or another, but have not yet completely made up their mind. They want to hear tonight some substance. They want to hear from these candidates. And perhaps they will make up their mind.
We also want to hear from them on the issues that are most important to them, whether those issues be education or health care, energy, tax cuts. The issues we want to hear from them will be significant, of course, because these are a representative group of other so-called persuadable voters around the country.
We were helped by the Gallup polling organization, our polling partners, in finding these voters here in Tampa. They did some pre- interviews. We came to this city, we came to Tampa for one important reason: Florida is right now an important battleground state.
BUSH: I believe Florida is going to be Bush country come November.
BLITZER (voice-over): Conventional wisdom once had Florida firmly in George W. Bush's column, given his comfortable lead during the summer months and the fact his brother is the state's governor.
GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: With great pride that I introduce him to you.
BLITZER: But Florida is now a toss-up. So how did Al Gore catch up?
TOM FIEDLER, "MIAMI HERALD": The master stroke there was putting Joe Lieberman on the ticket with him.
BLITZER: Lieberman has helped energize the Democratic base in south Florida.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And lessum (ph) shalom, peace to you, mayor.
BLITZER: Seniors and Jewish voters.
FIEDLER: The most Democratic county in the country in the 1996 election was Broward County, which is around Fort Lauderdale, the northern Miami suburbs, and so what Al Gore has to do in this case is strike those issues that will really maximize the turnout in southeastern Florida.
BLITZER: Seniors make up about a third of the Florida electorate. The best way to court them, emphasize their issues, both in personal appearances and on the airwaves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH CAMPAIGN AD)
G. BUSH: We will make prescription drugs available and affordable for every senior who needs them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GORE CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: Al Gore, the only prescription plan that gives all seniors coverage and choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Democrats' strength may be in the southern part of the state, but the Republicans dominate up north.
LARRY HARRIS, MASON-DIXON POLLING AND RESEARCH: Northern Florida, we euphemistically referred to it as southern Alabama. As the South turned more and more to the Republican Party, so did northern Florida.
BLITZER: And even though the Hispanic vote split four years ago, Bush will count on strong support from Cuban-Americans.
SUSAN MACMANUS, UNIV. OF SOUTH FLORIDA: The Cuban vote is by far and away the largest portion of the Hispanic vote and probably the portion that is most likely to turn out in high numbers, a backlash from the Elian Gonzalez scenario.
BLITZER: That leaves central Florida as the real battleground. Known as the I-4 corridor stretching from Daytona Beach west to Tampa, it's an area that grew tremendously in the '90s.
MACMANUS: It is filled with independent voters, new arrivals to Florida, younger voters with families, and seniors that are a little bit better off than is true in other parts of the state.
FIEDLER: We've seen that area be very volatile. It can be influenced by what attention a candidate pays to it, to TV commercials. They run heavily in that corridor. So it's a -- every candidate knows that almost who is last to strike, whoever is last to strike in the corridor there is apt to benefit.
BLITZER: And remember, Florida is the fourth largest state, with 25 electoral votes. Bill Clinton carried this state in 1996. But given the current political math, it's a must-win for George W. Bush.
Let's check in with some of these persuadable voters and ask.
First of all, tell us your name, where you are from. What are you going to be looking for, listening for in this debate tonight?
BARBARA TATLOW (ph), FLORIDA VOTER: My name is Barbara Tatlow. I'm from Tampa, Florida. And I'm concerned with the health-care issues, with providing coverage for all Americans, not just the elderly, not just the poor, but also the uninsured, even the working class, anybody who even has insurance coverage, how can we provide insurance or coverage -- health-care coverage for the rest of the people.
BLITZER: Health care an important issue for you.
What's an important issue for you?
PENNY TABEN (ph), FLORIDA VOTER: Yes.
BLITZER: Tell us your name, too.
TABEN: My name is Penny Taben. I'm from Largo, Florida. And I'm interested in learning how the Middle East conflict is going to cause the rise in oil prices and what interventions the candidates see as necessary to keep prices down.
BLITZER: So far you haven't made up your mind one way or another, whether it should be Bush or Gore?
TABEN: No, I have not.
BLITZER: You're still waiting for some more information.
BLITZER: What about over here, what are you looking for this evening?
PHILIP CHABEDO (ph), FLORIDA VOTER: Hi, my name is Philip Chabedo. I live in Gwendon (ph), Florida. My main thing is military readiness, because we are -- in the military right now we are losing a lot of seniors to the civilian force because of better wages and incentives. I would like to know what plan, if any, any of those candidates have.
BLITZER: A lot of military personnel, retired military personnel live in this area of Florida. Do you have a special interest in this subject?
CHABEDO: Yes, because myself, I'm in the military.
BLITZER: You are in the military. And as a result, you want to know -- have you heard any differences yet in the course of this campaign that are important to you on this issue, between Gore and Bush?
CHABEDO: Not exactly. They haven't defined any of the -- they haven't defined exactly what's their plan to keep the military readiness of the country.
BLITZER: All right, let's go over here. What are you looking for this evening? Tell us your name, too.
DIANA MILLER (ph), FLORIDA VOTER: Hello. My name is Diana Miller. I live in Tampa, Florida. And my primary concern is education, I'm concerned about why we have more technology with more illiterate children. And I'm looking for passion tonight. I'm looking for trust. I want to know that I can trust the next president. I'm looking for conviction.
BLITZER: Is there an implication there you didn't trust the current president?
MILLER: I think that was a primary concern that was fed to us through the media, that we could not trust our president. And apparently, that is something I should be looking for. Is he credible? Is trust an issue that makes him more of a credible president?
BLITZER: So far, do you have good feelings about both Bush and Gore, that they are trustworthy?
MILLER: No, I don't see a passion for why they want to be president aside from the issues.
BLITZER: You will be watching very closely for the next 90 minutes.
MILLER: Yes, I will.
BLITZER: And tell us your name.
KIMBERLY DICKERSON (ph), FLORIDA VOTER: Hello. My name is Kimberly Dickerson, and I'm from Tampa, Florida. And my issues are education as well, and I feel that education is one of the biggest things now, because our children are our future, and one day they will be maybe a candidate elect for president, and I want the best education possible for our children. And I can remember a time where I used to be a school bus driver in Pinellas County and I would drop my bus off at the compound and I went in my own personal vehicle and took a student to the library for -- so she can be able to get her report done for school, because without my help, she probably would have got a failing grade. And like I said, I'm all for education, I will bend over backwards to help anyone that wants it and needs it.
BLITZER: All right, education, health care, military readiness, a lot of issues that these voters out here are going to be looking for. We'll be watching this debate with them over the course of the 90 minutes and when it's all over with, we'll hear the expert analysis, but we'll also get the analysis of the voters who are still up in the air.
Back to you, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf. And we always learn something when we listen to those folks.
When we come back -- we're going to take a break now. When we come back, we're going to talk to two people who have seen these and other campaigns from the inside, and this note for those -- and that's Mike McCurry and Mary Matalin. And for those who want to keep score at home during tonight's debate, you can simply log onto our Web site at cnn.com/election2000 and click onto the CNN debate scorecard. You can check later to see how our online visitors voted.
WOODRUFF: You're looking at the scene at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. That's Jim Lehrer, the anchor of the PBS "News Hour With Jim Lehrer." He is the moderator for tonight's first presidential debate. No doubt he's telling this audience at the university to hold their applause and not to take up precious time in this 90 minutes.
Well, we are just a few minutes away, in fact, 10 minutes away from this first debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush. But first, we want to turn to two opposing views on all of this. We're joined again today by Mary Matalin, co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE" -- she joins us from the campus of George Washington University -- and former White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
You've both been there on the inside. Mike, what is going on inside Al Gore's head at this moment, do you think?
MIKE MCCURRY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, hopefully, he's just kind of relaxing and trying to remember the main points that he wants to make. He's got to give people some sense of his passion for the presidency, his vision for the future, as one of our town hall guests put it.
This is kind of a weird moment for me, because in 1996 my job in the mock debates was to play Jim Lehrer -- so hearing him describe the rules of the debate.
It strikes me -- one thing, Judy -- this is a very complicated format, and I think it's going to be difficult for both candidates to get in those kinds of zingers that sometime define the success or failure in a presidential debate. I think that being the case, both candidates need to just think about those broad themes they want to articulate, the main message they want to make, the main reasons why they should be president of the United States.
WOODRUFF: Well, if it's such a complicated format, why did they insist on it? I mean, this is their proposal, their agreement?
MCCURRY: Well, it's -- it's very highly structured, and I think, you know, we'll have some other debates later in the schedule that really are more free-flowing. But it doesn't look to me like there's a lot of opportunity for those spontaneous engagement moments that really define a debate. But we'll have to see how that goes.
WOODRUFF: Mary Matalin, what's likely going on inside George Bush -- George W. Bush's head right now?
MARY MATALIN, CNN "CROSSFIRE": Well, I love the Gore people walking down the beach and saying he's not nervous about it. If they're not nervous, they're not in this race. There hasn't been one this close in 40 years, and the reality is you have to find -- and each guy does it on his own, in his own way -- you have to get in your zone.
And you just remarked on how precious the time is, how complicated the format is. You saw those undecideds in Tampa. They asked seven specific policy questions, one human quotient question. After all is said and done, the candidates will have a mere 35, 37 minutes each to go through a lot of stuff today, tonight, which they have to hit, and they can't spend a lot of time thinking about gimmicks and one-liners and those kinds of things that the press like but don't get any information across to the voters.
WOODRUFF: Mary, we are watching Tipper Gore, of course, the wife of the vice president. She's just come into -- into the auditorium, and there with at least two of the Gore daughters, Sarah and Kristin. And we assume that Mrs. Bush will be arriving in just a moment. Mike McCurry, how much of what they are saying tonight is geared -- and indeed, I think this is going to be Laura Bush walking in.
It is. And Governor Jeb Bush, entirely logical that he would be there. His brother, of course, is the candidate for president. Jeb Bush, the governor of the state of Florida.
Mike, how much of what they say tonight is geared to those undecideds? Have they just pretty much, they assume that the folks are in their camp are in their camp to stay, and they don't have to worry about their political base, they just have to aim for the undecideds tonight?
MCCURRY: Not entirely. They have to be able to make arguments that really appeal to their strong supporter, keep them revved up. They have to convince some of those undecided voters we've been talking to tonight. They also have to try to reach across that partisan divide and see if they can pull some people over.
This is a very fluid electorate. People indicate that they're willing to reconsider their choice that they made at this point. And so some -- some -- there might be some cherry-picking going on tonight, maybe reaching over and seeing with a couple of well-timed issue responses you could pull some people over.
WOODRUFF: How tricky is that, Mary, to both appeal to the folks who are wavering, who haven't made up their mind, and at the same time hold onto your base?
MATALIN: It's pretty tricky, but you have to do it, particularly since this whole campaign so far has been geared to those undecideds. A lot of people use debates as a drunk uses a lamppost, more for validation than illumination. But the base needs the validation, and they're going to have to do both of it. It's tricky, but being president is tricky.
WOODRUFF: All right, just one quick question. Why was the temperature important, Mike? We understand Gore wanted it to be 50 degrees and it's 65. To me, that's still cold.
MCCURRY: Well, I tell you, I've been under those hot lights before, and when the sweat breaks out and you get nervous, you're glad when it's about 65 degrees. But it's freezing in here right now.
WOODRUFF: All right, Mike McCurry, Mary Matalin, we know you want to go watch. And we'll let you do that. We are five minutes away, just about exactly, from the beginning of this debate.
We're going to take a break. Jeff Greenfield, Bill Schneider and I will be right back.
WOODRUFF: It is just about two minutes before 9:00 Eastern Time, and the moment of the first presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush is nigh upon us. This is a moment of sweaty palms and perspiring upper lips. If they are to be there, this is the time for them.
You're looking at Clark Athletic Center at the University of Massachusetts, Boston campus. Jim Lehrer, the moderator, there on the left, and in just a moment or two, Al Gore and George W. Bush will walk on that red-carpeted stage to face one another for the first time in this campaign. And today is October the 3rd. I'm here with Jeff Greenfield and Bill Schneider.
Bill, we were talking about this a minute ago, Jeff, they've negotiated every detail of this debate. Nothing has been left to chance.
GREENFIELD: Including the fact that the microphones are fixed so that neither Gore nor Bush can wander away from the podiums, there are no props.
WOODRUFF: Which was something Gore wanted, we're told.
GREENFIELD: Right. But it's also true that this is the most rigid format of the three presidential debates. There's a two-minute open, a minute rebuttal. But the one thing to keep in mind, as Jim Lehrer has the option to continue the conversation on an issue if he wants for another 3 1/2 minutes. So there is a chance for a little more give-and-take than you would think in this format.
Now, next week they're going to be sitting around a table, which is what George Bush wanted. You remember in South Carolina that was an effective format for him against -- against John McCain. But you're quite right: This is about as rigidly negotiated as a peace treaty.
SCHNEIDER: But you know, George Bush didn't want to be here at all in Boston. He said that he really didn't want to have the first debate in Boston because that was hostile territory. It's right next to the Kennedy Library, named, of course, for a famous Democratic president, but he gave in on that point.
WOODRUFF: Yes, Jeff?
GREENFIELD: One thing that viewers might want to keep in mind is let's see who quotes John Kennedy first...
... because, you know, there's a tax cut bill that George Bush has. John Kennedy did...
WOODRUFF: Or let's see who refers to John Kennedy, as Lloyd Bentsen did in 1988 in the vice presidential debate.
SCHNEIDER: Something interesting. You know, there's always a stature gap when you're running against a president or a vice president, and that's what George Bush faces tonight. He's running against a vice president.
Kennedy faced that when he ran against the vice president in 1960, and in that debate, he compared himself to of all people Abraham Lincoln and pointed to the fact that Lincoln had very little experience before he became president. I don't think there was anyone there to say, "Mr. Kennedy..."
GREENFIELD: I knew Abe Lincoln.
SCHNEIDER: "... I knew Abe Lincoln and you're no Abe Lincoln."
WOODRUFF: We're told that the candidates are standing in the wings. They will be walking out on stage literally in just a few seconds.
I don't think we can underline enough how much the imprint of the candidates is on these three -- four debates, if you count the vice presidential debate. Again, they negotiated not just the height of the lecterns, the microphones, the temperature, the fact that they can't bring any props. We're told that the Gore campaign wanted, the vice president wanted to have the option of carrying something on stage with him. The ultimate decision was no.
The -- we're -- if I'm not mistaken, the candidates are permitted to bring several sheets of blank paper with them on the stage, but that paper will be inspected by someone representing the commission to make sure there's nothing written on it.
And we're about 30 seconds away...
GREENFIELD: And you will remember that in Iowa Al Gore brought somebody out of the audience, had him stand up, and challenge Bill Bradley. Why did you vote against the flood control program for this farmer? I don't believe you're going to be seeing any of that tonight, based on the rules.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, this is the debate, the kind of format that Al Gore supposedly likes, where you can lay out your issue position in more detail. Next week they'll be talking face-to-face with more interaction.
WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to be quiet, and we're going to turn it over to the moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS.
JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR/PBS "THE NEWS HOUR WITH JIM LEHRER": Good evening from the Clark Athletic Center at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. I'm Jim Lehrer of "The NewsHour" on PBS, and I welcome you to the first of three 90-minute debates between the Democratic candidate for president, Vice President Al Gore, and the Republican candidate, Governor George W. Bush of Texas.
The debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and they will be conducted within formats and rules agreed to by the commission, and the two campaigns.
Tonight, we'll have the candidates at podiums. No answer to a question can exceed two minutes. Rebuttals are limited to one minute. But as moderator, I have the option to follow up and to extend any particular give-and-take another 3 1/2 minutes. But even then, no single answer can exceed two minutes.
The candidates, under their rules, may not question each other directly. There will be no opening statements, but each candidate may have up to two minutes for a closing statement.
The questions and the subjects were chosen by me alone. I have told no one from the two campaigns or the commission or anyone else involved what they are.
There's a small audience in the hall tonight. They're not here to participate -- only to listen. I have asked and they have agreed to remain silent for the next 90 minutes: except for right now, when they will applaud as we welcome the two candidates, Governor Bush and Vice President Gore.
And now, the first question: as determined by a flip of a coin, it goes to Vice President Gore.
Vice President Gore, you have questioned whether Governor Bush has the experience to be president of the United States. What exactly do you mean?
AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Jim, first of all I would like to thank the sponsors of this debate and the people of Boston for hosting the debate. I'd like to thank Governor Bush for participating. And I'd like to say I'm happy to be here with Tipper and our family.
I have actually not questioned Governor Bush's experience; I have questioned his proposals. And here's why: I think this is a very important moment for our country. We have achieved extraordinary prosperity. And in this election, America has to make an important choice: Will we use our prosperity to enrich not just the few but all of our families?
I believe we have to make the right and responsible choices.
If I'm entrusted with the presidency, here are the choices that I will make: I'll balance the budget every year, I will pay down the national debt, I will put Medicare and Social Security in a lockbox and protect it, and I will cut taxes for middle class families.
I believe it's important to resist the temptation to squander our surplus. If we make the right choices, we can have a prosperity that endures and enriches all of our people.
If I'm entrusted with the presidency, I will help parents and strengthen families, because, you know, if we have prosperity that grows and grows, we still won't be successful unless we strengthen families by, for example, ensuring that children can always go to schools that are safe, by giving parents the tools to protect their children against cultural pollution.
I will make sure that we invest in our country and our families. And I mean investing in education, health care, the environment and middle class tax cuts and retirement security. That's my agenda, and that's why I think that it's not just question of experience.
LEHRER: Governor Bush, one minute rebuttal.
BUSH: Well, we do come from different places. And I come from West Texas. I've been a governor. Governor is the chief executive officer and learns how to set agendas, and I think you're going to find the difference reflect in our budgets.
I want to take one-half of the surplus and dedicate it to Social Security, one-quarter of the surplus for important projects, and I want to send one-quarter of the surplus back to the people who pay the bills. I want everybody who pays taxes to have their tax rates cut.
Now that stands in contrast to my worthy opponent's plan, which will increase the size of government dramatically. His plan is three times larger than President Clinton's proposed plan eight years ago. It's a plan that will have 200 new programs, as well -- or expanded programs. It'll create 20,000 new bureaucrats. In other words, it empowers Washington.
And tonight you're going to hear that my passion and my vision is to empower Americans to be able to make decisions for themselves in their own lives.
LEHRER: So, I take it by your answer then, Mr. Vice President, that in your -- an interview recently with the New York Times, when you said that you question whether vice president -- or Governor Bush was experienced enough to be president, you were talking about strictly policy differences?
GORE: Yes, Jim. I said that his tax cut plan, for example, raises the question of whether it's the right choice for the country.
And let me give you an example of what I mean: Under Governor Bush's tax cut proposal, he would spend more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent than all of the new spending that he proposes for education, health care, prescription drugs and national defense, all combined. Now, I think those are the wrong priorities.
Now, under my proposal, for every dollar that I propose in spending for things like education and health care, I will put another dollar into middle class tax cuts.
And for every dollar that I spend in those two categories, I'll put two dollars toward paying down the national debt. I think it's very important to keep the debt going down and completely eliminate it.
And I also think it's very important to go to the next stage of welfare reform. Our country has cut the welfare rolls in half. I fought hard, from my days in the Senate and as vice president, to cut the welfare rolls, and we've moved millions of people in America into good jobs. But it's now time for the next stage of welfare reform and include fathers and not only mothers.
LEHRER: We're going to get to a lot of those.
Yes, go ahead, Governor.
BUSH: Well, let me just said that obviously tonight we're going to hear some phony numbers about what I think and what we ought to do. People need to know that, over the next 10 years, there's going to be $25 trillion of revenue that comes into our Treasury, and we anticipate spending $21 trillion.
And my plan says, "Why don't we pass $1.3 trillion of that back to the people who pay the bills?" Surely we can afford 5 percent of the $25 trillion that are coming into the Treasury to the hard- working people who pay the bills.
There's a difference of opinion. My opponent thinks the government -- the surplus is the government's money. That's not what I think. I think it's the hard-working people of America's money, and I want to share some of that money with you, so you've got more money to build and save and dream for your families.
It's a difference of opinion. It's the difference between government making decisions for you and you getting more of your money to make decisions for yourself.
LEHRER: Let me just follow up, one quick question. When you hear Vice President Gore question your experience, do you read it the same way, that he's talking about policy differences only?
BUSH: Yes. I take him for his word.
I mean, look, I fully recognize I'm not of Washington. I'm from Texas. And he's got a lot of experience, but so do I. And I've been the chief executive officer of the second-biggest state in the Union. And I've had a proud record of working with both Republicans and Democrats, which is what our nation needs. We need somebody who can come up to Washington and say, "Look, let's forget all the politics and all the finger-pointing and get some positive things done on Medicare and prescription drugs and Social Security." And so, I take him for his word.
GORE: Jim, if I could just respond.
LEHRER: Just quick and then we need to move on.
GORE: I know that.
The governor used the phrase "phony numbers," but if you -- if you look at the plan and add the numbers up, these numbers are correct. He spends more money for tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent in all of his new spending proposals for health care, prescription drugs, education and national defense, all combined. I agree that the surplus is the American people's money; it's your money. That's why I don't think we should give nearly half of it to the wealthiest 1 percent, because the other 99 percent have had an awful lot to do with building this surplus and our prosperity.
LEHRER: All right, three and a half minutes is up. New question.
BUSH: I hope it's about wealthy people.
LEHRER: Governor Bush, you have questioned -- this is a companion question to the question I asked Vice President Gore.
LEHRER: You have questioned whether Vice President Gore has demonstrated the leadership qualities necessary to be president of the United States. What do you mean by that?
BUSH: Well, here's what I've said: I've said, Jim, I've said that eight years ago they campaigned on prescription drugs for seniors, and four years ago they campaigned on getting prescription drugs for seniors, and now they're campaigning on getting prescription drugs for seniors. It seems like they can't get it done.
Now they may blame other folks, but it's time to get somebody in Washington who's going to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get some positive things done when it comes to our seniors.
And so what I've said is, is there's been some missed opportunities. They've had a chance. They've had a chance to form consensus. I've got a plan on Medicare, for example, that's a two- stage plan that says we're going to have immediate help for seniors in what I call "Immediate Helping Hand," a $48 billion program.
But I also want to say to seniors, "If you're happy with Medicare the way it is, fine, you can stay in the program. But we're going to give you additional choices just like they give federal employees in the federal employee health plan." Federal employees have got a variety of choices from which to choose, so should seniors.
And my point has been, as opposed to politicizing an issue like Medicare -- in other words, holding it up as an issue, hoping somebody bites and then try to clobber them over the head with it for political purposes -- this year, in the year 2000, it's time to say, "Let's get it done once and for all." And that's what I have been critical about the administration for.
Same with Social Security. I think there was a good opportunity to bring Republicans and Democrats together to reform the Social Security system so the seniors will never go without. Those on Social Security today will have their promise made.
But also to give younger workers the option, at their choice, of being able to manage some of their own money in the private sectors to make sure there's a Social Security system around tomorrow. There's a lot of young workers at our rallies we go to, that when they hear that I'm going to trust them, at their option, to be able to manage, under certain guidelines, some of their own money to get a better rate of return so that they'll have a retirement plan in the future, they begin to nod their heads. And they want a different attitude in Washington.
LEHRER: One minute rebuttal, Vice President Gore.
GORE: Well, Jim, under my plan, all seniors will get prescription drugs under Medicare. The governor has described Medicare as a government HMO; it's not. And let me explain the difference.
Under the Medicare prescription drug proposal I'm making, here's how it works: You go to your own doctor and your doctor chooses your prescription, and no HMO or insurance company can take those choices away from you. Then you go to your own pharmacy, you fill the prescription and Medicare pays half the cost. If you're in a very poor family or you have very high costs, Medicare will pay all the costs -- a $25 premium and much better benefits than you can possibly find in the private sector.
Now here's the contrast. Ninety-five percent of all seniors would get no help whatsoever, under my opponent's plan, for the first four or five years.
Now, one thing I don't understand, Jim, is, why is it that the wealthiest 1 percent get their tax cuts the first year, but 95 percent of seniors have to wait four to five years before they get a single penny.
BUSH: I guess my answer to that is, the man's running on Mediscare, trying to frighten people in the voting booth. That's just not the way I think, and I that's just not my intentions. That's not my plan.
I want all seniors to have prescription drugs and Medicare. We need to reform Medicare. There have been opportunity to do so, but this administration has failed to do it.
And so seniors are going to have not only a Medicare plan where the poor seniors will have their prescriptions paid for, but there will be a variety of options.
The current system today has meant a lot for a lot of seniors, and I really appreciate the intentions of the current system. And as I mentioned, if you're happy with the system, you can stay in it.
But there's a lot of procedures that have not kept up in Medicare with the current times. There's no prescription drug benefits, there's no drug therapies, there's no preventing medicines, there's no vision care.
I mean, we need to have a modern system to help seniors. And the idea of supporting a federally controlled, 132,000-page document bureaucracy as being a compassionate way for seniors is -- and the only compassionate source of care for seniors, is just not my vision.
I believe we ought to give seniors more options. I believe we ought to make the system work better. But I know this: I know it's going to require a different kind of leader to go to Washington to say to both Republicans and Democrats, "Let's come together."
You've had your chance, Vice President. You've been there for eight years and nothing has been done.
And my point is is that my plan not only trusts seniors with options, my plan sets aside $3.4 trillion for Medicare over the next 10 years. My plan also says it's going to require a new approach in Washington, D.C.
It's going to require somebody who can work across the partisan divide.
GORE: If I could respond to that, Jim, under my plan, I will put Medicare in an iron-clad lockbox and prevent the money from being used for anything other than Medicare. The governor has declined to endorse that idea, even though the Republican as well as Democratic leaders of Congress have endorsed it.
I'd be interested to see if he would this evening say that he would put Medicare in a lockbox. I don't think he will, because under his plan, if you work out the numbers, $100 billion comes out of Medicare just for the wealthiest 1 percent in the tax cut.
Now here is the difference: Some people who say the word "reform" actually mean cuts. Under the governor's plan, if you kept the same fee-for-service that you have now under Medicare, your premiums would go up by between 18 and 47 percent. And that's the study of the congressional plan that he's modeled his proposal on by the Medicare actuaries.
Let me just give you one quick example: There's a man here tonight named George McKinney from Milwaukee. He's 70 years old, he has high blood pressure, his wife has heart trouble. They have income of $25,000 a year. They cannot pay for their prescription drugs. And so they're some of the ones that go to Canada regularly in order to get their prescription drugs.
Under my plan, half of their costs would be paid right away. Under Governor Bush's plan, they would get not one penny for four to five years, and then they would be forced to go into an HMO or to an insurance company and ask them for coverage, but there would be no limit on the premiums or the deductibles or any other terms and conditions.
BUSH: I cannot let this go by, the old-style Washington politics, of "We're going to scare you in the voting booth."
Under my plan, the man gets immediate help with prescription drugs. It's called "Immediate Helping Hand." Instead of squabbling and finger-pointing, he gets immediate help.
Let me say something. Now, I understand -- excuse me...
LEHRER: All right, excuse me, gentlemen...
GORE: Jim, can I...
LEHRER: ... minutes is up, but we'll finish that.
GORE: Can I make one other point? They get $25,000 a year income. That makes them ineligible.
BUSH: Look, this is the man who's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think, not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator.
It's fuzzy math. It's to scare them, trying to scare people in the voting booth.
Under my tax plan, that he continues to criticize, I set a third. You know, the federal government should take more of that -- no more than a third of anybody's check. But I also dropped the bottom rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, because, by far, the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.
If you're a family of four in Massachusetts making $50,000, you get a 50 percent cut in the federal income taxes you pay. It's from $4,000 to about $2,000.
Now, the difference in our plans is, I want that $2,000 to go to you.
LEHRER: All right. Let me -- hold on.
BUSH: And the vice president would like to be spending the $2,000 on your behalf.
LEHRER: One quick thing, gentlemen. These are your rules. I'm doing my best. We're way over the three and a half. I have no problems with it, but we wanted -- do you want to have a quick response, and we'll move on. We're already almost five minutes on this, all right?
GORE: Yes. It's just clearer -- you can go to the web site and look. If you make more than $25,000 a year, you don't get a penny of help under the Bush prescription drug proposal for at least four to five years. And then you're pushed into a Medicare -- into an HMO or an insurance company plan, and there's no limit on the premiums or the deductibles or any of the conditions. And the insurance companies say that it won't work and they won't offer these plans.
LEHRER: Let me ask you both this, and we'll move on, on this subject. As a practical matter, both of you want to bring prescription drugs to seniors, correct?
GORE: Correct, but the difference is -- the difference is I want to bring it to 100 percent, and he brings it only to 5 percent.
LEHRER: All right. All right. All right.
BUSH: That's just -- that's just -- that's just totally false.
LEHRER: All right. What difference does it make how...
BUSH: Wait a minute. It's just totally false for him to stand up here and say that.
Let me make sure the seniors hear me loud and clear. They've had their chance to get something done. I'm going to work with both Republicans and Democrats to reform the system. All seniors will be covered. All poor seniors will have their prescription drugs paid for. In the meantime -- in the meantime, we're going to have a plan to help poor seniors. And "in the meantime" could be one year or two years.
GORE: Let me -- let me call your attention to the key word there. He said all "poor" seniors.
BUSH: No. Wait a minute, all seniors are covered under prescription drugs in my plan.
GORE: In the first year? In the first year?
BUSH: If we can get it done in the first year, you bet. Yours is phased in in eight years.
GORE: No. No. No. No. It's a two-phase plan, Jim. And for the first four years -- it takes a year to pass it. And for the first four years, only the poor are covered. Middle class seniors, like George McKinney and his wife, are not covered for four to five years.
LEHRER: I've got an idea.
LEHRER: You have any more to say about this, you can say it in your closing statement, so we'll move on, OK?
New question, Vice President Gore, how would you contrast your approach to preventing future -- future oil price and supply problems like we have now to the approach of Governor Bush?
GORE: Excellent question, and here's the -- here's the simple difference: My plan has not only a short-term component, but also a long-term component, and it focuses not only on increasing the supply, which I think we have to do, but also on working on the consumption side. Now, in the short term, we have to free ourselves from the domination of the big oil companies that have the ability to manipulate the price, from OPEC when they want to raise the price. And in the long term, we have to give new incentives for the development of domestic resources, like deep gas in the western Gulf, like stripper wells for oil, but also renewable sources of energy and domestic sources that are cleaner and better.
And I'm proposing a plan that will give tax credits and tax incentives for the rapid development of new kinds of cars and trucks and buses and factories and boilers and furnaces that don't have as much pollution, that don't burn as much energy and that help us get out on the cutting edge of the new technologies that will create millions of new jobs, because when we sell these new products here, we'll then be able to sell them overseas. And there's a ravenous demand for them overseas.
Now another big difference is, Governor Bush is proposing to open up our -- some of our most precious environmental treasures, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to the big oil companies to go in and start producing oil there. I think that is the wrong choice. It would only give us a few months worth of oil, and the oil wouldn't start flowing for many years into the future. And I don't think it's a fair price to pay to -- to destroy precious parts of America's environment.
We have to bet on the future and move beyond the current technologies to have a whole new generation of more efficient, cleaner energy technologies.
LEHRER: Governor Bush, one minute.
BUSH: Well, it's an issue I know a lot about. I was a small oil person for a while in West Texas. This is an administration that's had no plan, and all of a sudden, the results of having no plan have caught up with America.
First and foremost, we got to make sure we fully fund LIHEAP, which is a way to help low-income folks, particularly here in the East, to pay for their high fuel bills.
Secondly, we need an active exploration program in America. The only way to become less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil is to explore at home.
And you bet I want to open up a small part of -- a part of Alaska because when that field is on-line, it will produce a million barrels a day. Today we import a million barrels from Saddam Hussein.
I would rather that a million come from our own hemisphere, our own country, as opposed from Saddam Hussein.
I want to build more pipelines to move natural gas throughout this hemisphere. I want to develop the coal resources in America and have clean-coal technologies. We've got abundant supplies of energy here in America, and we better get out there and better start exploring it, otherwise we're going to be in deep trouble in the future because of our dependency upon foreign sources of crude.
LEHRER: So, if somebody is watching tonight, listening to what the two of you just said, is it fair to say, OK, the differences between Vice President Gore and George W. Bush, Governor Bush, are the following: You are for doing something on the consumption end, you're for doing something on the production end...
GORE: Let me clarify. I'm for doing something both on the supply side and production side and on the consumption side. And let me say that I found one thing in Governor Bush's answer that we certainly agree on, and that's the low-income heating assistance program, and I commend you for supporting that. I worked to get $400 million just a couple of weeks ago and to establish a permanent home heating oil reserve here in the Northeast.
Now, as for the proposals that I've worked for, for renewables and conservation and efficiency and the new technologies, the fact is, for the last few years in the Congress, we've faced a lot of opposition to them, and they've only -- they've only approved about 10 percent of the agenda that I've helped to send up there.
And I think that we need to get serious about this energy crisis, both in the Congress and in the White House. And if you entrust me with the presidency, I will tackle this problem and focus on new technologies that will make us less dependent on Big Oil or foreign oil.
LEHRER: How would you draw the difference, Governor?
BUSH: Well, I would first say that he should have been tackling it for the last seven years. And secondly, the difference is that we need to explore at home. And the vice president doesn't believe in exploration, for example, in Alaska. There's a lot of shut-in gas that we need to be moving out of Alaska by pipeline.
There's an interesting issue up in the Northwest, as well. And that is whether or not we remove dams that propose hydroelectric energy. I'm against removing dams in the Northwest. I don't know where the vice president stands. But that's a renewable source of energy we need to keep in-line.
I was in coal country yesterday, in West Virginia. There's an abundant supply of coal in America. I know we can do a better job of clean-coal technologies. I'm going to ask the Congress for $2 billion to make sure that we have the cleanest coal technologies in the world.
My answer to you is, is that, in the short term, we need to get after it here in America. We need to explore our resources, and we need to develop our reservoirs of domestic production.
We also need to have a hemispheric energy policy where Canada and Mexico and the United States come together. I brought this up recently with Vicente Fox, who's the newly elected president. He's a man I know from Mexico. And I talked about how best to be able to expedite the exploration of natural gas in Mexico and transport it up to the United States, so we become less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil.
This is a major problem facing America. The administration did not deal with it. It's time for a new administration to deal with the energy problem.
GORE: If I could just -- just briefly, Jim, I know.
I found a couple of other things that we agree on, and we may not find that many this evening, so I wanted to emphasize them.
I strongly supply the new investments in clean-coal technology.
I made a proposal three months ago on this. And also domestic exploration, yes, but not in the environmental treasures of our country. We don't have to do that; that's the wrong choice. I know the oil companies have been itching to do that, but it is not the right thing for the future.
BUSH: No, it's the right thing for the consumers. Less dependency upon foreign sources of crude is good for consumers, and we can do so in an environmentally friendly way.
GORE: Well, can I have the last word on this?
LEHRER: New question.
BUSH: Of course.
GORE: OK. Go ahead.
LEHRER: New question. New subject.
GORE: All right.
LEHRER: Governor Bush, if elected president, would you try to overturn the FDA's approval last week of the abortion pill RU-486?
BUSH: I don't think a president can do that. I was disappointed in the ruling because I think abortions ought to be more rare in America. And I'm worried that that pill will create more abortion, will cause more people to have abortions.
This is a very important topic, and it's a very sensitive topic because a lot of good people disagree on the issue. I think what the next president ought to do is to -- is to promote a culture of life in America, is the life of the elderly and the life of those living all across the country, life of the unborn.
As a matter of fact, I think a noble goal for this country is that every child, born and unborn, ought to be protected in law and welcomed into life. But I know we got to change a lot of minds before we -- before we get there in America. What I do believe is, we can find good common ground on issues like parental notification or parental consent. And I know we need to ban partial-birth abortions. This is a place where my opponent and I have strong disagreements. I believe banning partial-birth abortion would be a positive step toward reducing the number of abortions in America.
This is an issue that's going to require a new attitude. We've been battling over abortion for a long period of time.
Surely this nation can come together to promote the value of life. Surely we can fight off these laws that will encourage doctors -- to allow doctors to take the lives of our seniors. Surely we can work together to create a cultural life so some of these youngsters that feel like they can take a neighbor's life with a gun will understand that that's not the way America's meant to be.
And surely we can find common ground to reduce the number of abortions in America. As to the drug itself, I mentioned I was disappointed. I hope -- and I'm -- I hope the FDA took its time to make sure that American women will be safe who use this -- who use this drug.
LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
GORE: Well, Jim, the FDA took 12 years. And I do support that decision. They determined it was medically safe for the women who use that drug.
Now, this is, indeed, a very important issue. First of all, on the issue of partial-birth or so-called late-term abortion, I would sign a law banning that procedure, provided that doctors have the ability to save a women's life or to act if her health is severely at risk. And that's not the main issue.
The main issue is whether or not the Roe v. Wade decision is going to be overturned. I support a woman's right to choose; my opponent does not.
It is important because the next president is going to appoint three, maybe even four, justices of the Supreme Court.
And Governor Bush has declared to the anti-choice groups that he will appoint justices in the mold of Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who are known for being the most vigorous opponents of a woman's right to choose.
Here's the difference: He trusts the government to order a woman to do what he thinks she ought to do. I trust women to make the decisions that affect their lives, their destinies and their bodies. And I think a woman's right to choose ought to be protected and defended.
LEHRER: Governor, we'll go to the Supreme Court question in a moment. But, to make sure I understand your position on RU-486, if you're elected president will you not throw appointments to the FDA, you won't support legislation to overturn this?
BUSH: I don't think a president can unilaterally overturn it. I think the FDA's made its decision.
LEHRER: That means that you wouldn't throw appointments to the FDA and ask them to reappraise it?
BUSH: I think once the decision's made, it's been made, unless it's proven to be unsafe to women.
GORE: Well, Jim, you know, the question you asked, if I heard you correctly, was would he support legislation to overturn it. And if I heard the statement the day before yesterday, you said you would order -- he said he would order his FDA appointee to review the decision. Now, that sounds to me a little bit different. And I just think that we ought to support the decision.
BUSH: I said I would make sure that -- that women would be safe to use the drug.
LEHRER: All right, on the Supreme Court question, should a voter assume -- you're pro-life. You just stated your position.
BUSH: I am pro-life.
LEHRER: Should a voter assume that all judicial appointments you make to the Supreme Court or any other federal court will also be pro- life?
BUSH: Voters should assume that I have no litmus test on that issue or any other issue. The voters will know I'll put competent judges on the bench, people who will strictly interpret the Constitution and will not use the bench to write social policy.
And that's going to be a big difference between my opponent and me. I believe that -- I believe that the judges ought not to take the place of the legislative branch of government, that they're appointed for life and that they ought to look at the Constitution as sacred. They shouldn't misuse their bench. I don't believe in liberal, activist judges. I believe in -- I believe in strict constructionists. And those are the kind of judges I will appoint.
I've named four Supreme Court judges in the state of Texas, and I would ask the people to check out their qualifications, their deliberations. They're good, solid men and women who have made good, sound judgments on behalf of the people of Texas.
LEHRER: What kind of appointments should they expect from you, Vice President Gore?
GORE: Both of us use similar language to reach an exactly opposite outcome. I don't favor litmus tests, but I know that there are ways to assess how a potential justice interprets the Constitution. And, in my view, the Constitution ought to be interpreted as a document that grows with our country and our history.
And I believe, for example, that there is a right of privacy in the Fourth Amendment.
And when the phrase "strict constructionist" is used, and when the names of Scalia and Thomas are used as benchmarks for who would be appointed, those are code words, and nobody should mistake this, for saying that the governor would appoint people who would overturn Roe v. Wade. I mean, just -- it's very clear to me.
And I would appoint people who have a philosophy that I think would make it quite likely that they would uphold Roe v. Wade.
LEHRER: Is the vice president right? Is that a code word for overturning Roe v. Wade?
BUSH: Sounds like the vice president is not very right many times tonight. I just told you the criteria in which I'll appoint judges. I've had a record of appointing judges in the state of Texas. That's what a governor gets to do. A governor gets to name Supreme Court judges, and I've given...
BUSH: He also reads all kinds of things into my tax plan and into my Medicare plan. And I just want the viewers out there to listen to what I have to say about it.
GORE: That's a yes; it is a code.
LEHRER: Reverse the question. What code phrases should we read by what you said about what kind of people you will appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court?
GORE: It'd be very likely that they'd uphold Roe v. Wade. But I do believe it's wrong to use a litmus test.
But if you look at the history of a lower court judge's rulings, you can get a pretty good idea of how they're going to interpret questions. Now, a lot of questions are first impression. And these questions that have been seen many times comes up in a new context.
And so, but -- you know, this is a very important issue, because a lot of young women in this country take this right for granted, and it could be lost.
It is on the ballot in this election, make no mistake about it.
BUSH: I'll tell you what kind of judges he'll put on there. He'll put liberal, activist judges who will use their bench to subvert the legislature. That's what he'll do.
GORE: That's not right.
LEHRER: New subject, new question.
Vice President Gore, if President Milosevic of Yugoslavia refuses to accept the election results and leave office, what action, if any, should the United States take to get him out of there? GORE: Well, Milosevic has lost the election. His opponent, Kostunica, has won the election. It's overwhelming. Milosevic's government refuses to release the vote count. There's now a general strike going on. They're demonstrating.
I think we should support the people of Serbia and the -- Yugoslavia, as they call Serbia plus Montenegro, and put pressure in every way possible to recognize the lawful outcome of the election.
The people of Serbia have acted very bravely in kicking this guy out of office. Now he is trying to not release the votes, and then go straight to a so-called run-off election without even announcing the results of the first vote.
Now, we've made it clear, along with our allies, that when Milosevic leaves, then Serbia will be able to have a more normal relationship with the rest of the world. That is a very strong incentive that we have given them to do the right thing.
Bear in mind, also, Milosevic has been indicted as a war criminal, and he should be held accountable for his actions.
Now, we have to take measured steps, because the sentiment within Serbia is, for understandable reasons, still against the United States, because their nationalism has led -- even if they don't like Milosevic, they still have some feelings lingering from the NATO action there. So we have to be intelligent in the way we go about it.
But make no mistake about it: We should do everything we can to see that the will of the Serbian people, expressed in this extraordinary election, is done. And I hope that he'll be out of office very shortly.
LEHRER: Governor Bush, one minute.
BUSH: Well, I'm pleased with the results of the elections, as the vice president is. It's time for the man to go. And it means that the United States must have a strong diplomatic hand with our friends in NATO. That's why it's important to make sure our alliances are as strong as they possibly can be, to keep the pressure on Mr. Milosevic.
But this'll be an interesting moment for the Russians to step up and lead as well, be a wonderful time for the -- for the -- Russia to step into the Balkans and convince Mr. Milosevic it's in his best interest and his country's best interest to leave office. The Russians have got a lot of sway in that part of the world, and we'd like to see them use that sway to encourage democracy to take hold.
And so it's an encouraging election. It's time for the man to leave.
LEHRER: But what if he doesn't leave, Mr. Vice -- what if all the things, all the diplomatic efforts, all the pressure from all over the world and he still doesn't go? Is this the kind of thing, to be specific, that you as president would consider the use of U.S. military force to get him gone?
In this particular situation, no. Bear in mind that we have a lot of sanctions in force against Serbia right now. And the people of Serbia know that they can escape all those sanctions if this guy is turned out of power.
Now, I understand what the governor has said about asking the Russians to be involved. And under some circumstances, that might be a good idea. But being as they have not yet been willing to recognize Kostunica as the lawful winner of the election, I'm not sure that it's right for us to invite the president of Russia to mediate this dispute there, because we might not like the result that comes out of that.
They currently favor going forward with a run-off election. I think that's the wrong thing. I think the governor's instinct is not necessarily bad, because we have worked with the Russians in a constructive way, in Kosovo, for example, to end the conflict there. But I think we need to be very careful in the present situation before we invite the Russians to play the lead role in mediating.
BUSH: Well, obviously we wouldn't use the Russians if they didn't agree with our answer, Mr. Vice President.
GORE: Well, they don't.
BUSH: But let me say this to you: I wouldn't use force. I wouldn't use force.
LEHRER: You wouldn't use force?
LEHRER: Why not?
BUSH: Because it's not in our national interest to use force in this case. I would keep pressure. I would use diplomacy.
There's a difference between what the president did, who I supported in Kosovo, and this. And it's up for the people in this region to figure out how to take control of their country.
LEHRER: New question: How would you go about, as president, deciding when it was in the national interest to use U.S. force, generally?
BUSH: Well, if it's in our vital national interests. And that means whether or not our territory -- our territory is threatened, our people could be harmed, whether or not our alliances -- our defense alliances are threatened, whether or not our friends in the Middle East are threatened. That would be a time to seriously consider the use of force.
Secondly, whether or not the mission was clear, whether or not it was a clear understanding as to what the mission would be.
Thirdly, whether or not we were prepared and trained to win, whether or not our forces were of high morale and high standing and well-equipped.
And finally, whether or not there was an exit strategy.
I would take the use of force very seriously. I would be guarded in my approach. I don't think we can be all things to all people in the world. I think we've got to be very careful when we commit our troops.
The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders.
I believe the role of the military is to fight and win war and, therefore, prevent war from happening in the first place.
And so I take my responsibility seriously. And it starts with making sure we rebuild our military power.
Morale in today's military is too low. We're having trouble meeting recruiting goals. We met the goals this year, but in the previous years, we have not met recruiting goals. Some of our troops are not well-equipped. I believe we're overextended in too many places.
And, therefore, I want to rebuild the military power. It starts with a billion dollar pay raise for the men and women who wear the uniform, a billion dollars more than the president recently signed into law, to make sure our troops are well-housed and well-equipped; bonus plans to keep some of our high-skilled folks in the services; and a commander in chief who clearly sets the mission, and the mission is to fight and win war, and, therefore, prevent war from happening in the first place.
LEHRER: Vice President Gore, one minute.
GORE: Let me tell you what I'll do. First of all, I want to make it clear: Our military is the strongest, best-trained, best- equipped, best-lead fighting force in the world and in the history of the world. Nobody should have any doubt about that, least of all our adversaries or potential adversaries.
I -- if you entrust me with the presidency, I will do whatever is necessary in order to make sure our forces stay the strongest in the world.
In fact, in my 10-year budget proposal, I have set aside more than twice as much for this purpose as Governor Bush has in his proposal.
Now, I think we should be reluctant to get involved in someplace, in a foreign country. But, if our national security is at stake, if we have allies, if we've tried every other course, if we're sure military action will succeed, and if the costs are proportionate to the benefits, we should get involved.
Now, just because we don't want to get involved everywhere doesn't mean we should back off anywhere it comes up.
And I disagree with the -- with the proposal that maybe only when oil supplies are at stake that our national security is at risk. I think that there are situations, like in Bosnia or Kosovo where there's a genocide, where our national security is at stake there.
BUSH: I agree that our military is the strongest in the world today. That's not the question. The question is will it be strongest in years to come? And the warning signs are real. Everywhere I go around the campaign trail, I see people who -- moms and dads whose son or daughter may wear the uniform, and they tell me about how discouraged their son and daughter may be.
A recent poll was taken amongst 1,000 enlisted personnel, as well as officers, over half of whom are going to leave the service when their time of enlistment is up. The captains are leaving the service.
There is a problem, and it's going to require a new commander in chief to rebuild the military power.
The other day, I was honored to be flanked by Colin Powell and General Norman Schwarzkopf, who stood by my side and agreed with me.
They said we can -- even though we're the strongest military, that if we don't do something quickly, we don't have a clearer vision of the military, if we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I'm going to prevent that. I'm going to rebuild our military power. It's one of the major priorities of my administration.
LEHRER: Vice President Gore, how should the voters go about deciding which one of you is better suited to make the kind of decisions we've been -- whether it's Milosevic or whether it's whatever -- in the military and foreign policy area?
GORE: Well, they should look at our proposals and look at us as people and make up their own minds.
When I was a young man, I volunteered for the Army. I served my country in Vietnam. My father was a senator who strongly opposed the Vietnam War. I went to college in this great city and most of my peers felt against the war, as I did.
But I went anyway, because I knew if I didn't, somebody else in the small town of Carthage, Tennessee, would have to go in my place.
I served for eight years in the House of Representatives, and I served on the Intelligence Committee, specialized in looking at arms control. I served for eight years in the United States Senate and served on the Armed Services Committee. For the last eight years, I've served on the National Security Council.
And when the conflict came up in Bosnia, I saw a genocide in the heart of Europe, with the most violent war on the continent of Europe since World War II. Look, that's where World War I started, in the Balkans.
My uncle was a victim of poison gas there. Millions of Americans saw the results of that conflict.
We have to be willing to make good, sound judgments.
And, incidentally, I know the value of making sure our troops have the latest technology. The governor's proposed skipping the next generation of weapons. I think that's a big mistake, because I think we have to stay at the cutting edge.
LEHRER: Governor, how would you advise the voters to make the decision on this issue?
BUSH: Well, I think you've got to look at how one has handled responsibility in office, whether or not -- it's the same in domestic policy as well, Jim, whether or not you've got the capacity to convince people to follow, whether or not one makes decisions based on sound principles, or whether or not you rely upon polls and focus groups on how to decide what the course of action is.
We've got too much polling and focus groups going on in Washington today. We need decisions made on sound principles.
And I've been the governor of a big state. I think one of the hallmarks of my relationship in Austin, Texas, is, is that I've had the capacity to work with both Republicans and Democrats. I think that's an important part of leadership. I think of what it means to build consensus. I've shown I know how to do so.
As a matter of fact, tonight in the audience there's one elected state senator who's a Democrat, a former state rep who's a Democrat, couple of -- one statewide officer's a Democrat. I mean, there's a lot of Democrats who are here in the debate too...
LEHRER: Go ahead.
GORE: Go ahead.
BUSH: ... because they want to show their support, that shows I know how to lead.
And so the fundamental answer to your question: Who can lead, and who has shown the ability to get things done?
GORE: If I could say one other thing...
LEHRER: All right. We're way over the three and a half minutes. Go ahead.
GORE: I think one of the key points in foreign policy and national security policy is the need to reestablish the old-fashioned principle that politics ought to stop at the water's edge.
When I was in the United States Congress, I worked with former President Reagan to modernize our strategic weaponry and to pursue arms control in a responsible way. When I was in the United States Senate, I worked with former President Bush, your father, and was one of only a few Democrats in the Senate to support the Persian Gulf War.
I think bipartisanship is a national asset, and we have to find ways to reestablish it in foreign policy and national security policy.
LEHRER: In a word, do you have a problem with that?
BUSH: Yes, why haven't they done it in seven years?
LEHRER: New subject, new question.
Should the voters of this election, Vice President Gore, see this on domestic area -- in the domestic area, as a major choice between competing political philosophies?
GORE: Oh, absolutely. This is a very important moment in the history of our country.
Look, we've got the biggest surpluses in all of American history. The key question that has to be answered in this election is, will we use that prosperity wisely in a way that benefits all of our people and doesn't go just to the few? Almost half of all the tax cut benefits, as I said, under Governor Bush's plan, go to the wealthiest 1 percent.
I think we have to make the right and responsible choices.
I think we have to invest in education, protecting the environment, health care, a prescription drug benefit that goes to all seniors, not just to the poor; under Medicare, not relying on HMOs and insurance companies.
I think that we have to help parents and strengthen families by dealing with the kind of inappropriate entertainment material that families are just heartsick that their children are exposed to.
I think we have got to have welfare reform taken to the next stage.
I think that we have got to balance the budget every single year, pay down the national debt. And, in fact, under my proposal, the national debt will be completely eliminated by the year 2012.
I think we need to put Medicare and Social Security in a lockbox. The governor will not put Medicare in a lockbox. I don't think it should be used as a piggy bank for other programs. I think it needs to be moved out of the budget and protected. I'll veto anything that takes money out of Social Security or Medicare for anything other than Social Security or Medicare.
Now, the priorities are just very different. I'll give you a couple of examples: For every new dollar that I propose for spending on health care, Governor Bush spends three dollars for a tax cut of the wealthiest 1 percent. Now, for every dollar that I propose to spend on education, he spends five dollars on a tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent. Those are very clear differences.
LEHRER: Governor, one minute.
BUSH: Man's practicing fuzzy math again. There's differences.
Under Vice President Gore's plan, he's going to grow the federal government in the largest increase since Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1965. We're talking about a massive government, folks. We're talking about adding to or increasing 200 new programs, 200 programs, 20,000 new bureaucrats. Imagine how many IRS agents it's going to take to be able to figure out his targeted tax cut for the middle class that excludes 50 million Americans.
There is a huge difference in this campaign. He says he's going to give you tax cuts; 50 million of you won't receive it. He said, in his speech, he wants to make sure the right people get tax relief. That's not the role of a president to decide right and wrong. Everybody who pays taxes ought to get tax relief.
After my plan is in place, the wealthiest Americans will pay a higher percentage of taxes than they do today, and the poorest of Americans, 6 million families, 7 million people, won't pay any tax at all.
It is a huge difference. It's the difference between big, exploding federal government that wants to think on your behalf, and a plan that meets priorities and liberates working people to be able to make decisions on your own.
GORE: Let me just say, Jim, you haven't heard the governor deny these numbers. He's called them phony, he's called them fuzzy. But the fact remains, almost 30 percent of his proposed tax cut goes only to Americans that make more than $1 million per year.
GORE: More money goes to the...
GORE: Can I have a rebuttal here?
LEHRER: Sure, but I just want to see if he buys that.
BUSH: No, here, let me just tell you what the facts are. The facts are, after my plan, the wealthiest of Americans pay more taxes of the percentage of the whole than they do today.
Secondly, if you're a family of four making $50,000 in Massachusetts, you get a 50 percent tax cut.
Let me give you one example, the Strunk family in Allentown, Pennsylvania, I campaigned with them the other day. They make $51,000 combined income. They pay about $3,800 in taxes -- or $3,500 in taxes. Under my plan, they get $1,800 of tax relief. Under Vice President Gore's plan, they get $145 of tax relief.
Now you tell me who stands on the side of the rich? You ask the Strunks.
GORE: Well, he's...
BUSH: You ask the Strunks...
GORE: If I could get my...
BUSH: ... whose plan -- it makes more sense. And there's a difference of opinion. He would rather spend the Strunks' $1,800, and I would rather the Strunks spend their own money.
LEHRER: Do you see it that way, Vice President Gore?
GORE: No, I don't. And I'm not going to go to calling names on his facts, I'm just going to tell you what the real facts are. The analysis that he's talking about leaves out more than half of the tax cuts that I have proposed. And if you just add the numbers up -- he still hasn't denied it -- he spends more money on a tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent than all of his new proposals for prescription drugs, health care, education and national defense combined. Now those are the wrong priorities -- $665 billion over 10 years for the wealthiest 1 percent.
Now -- and as I said, almost 30 percent of it goes to Americans that make more than $1 million per year.
Every middle class family is eligible for a tax cut under my proposal.
Let me give you some specific examples: I believe that college tuition up to $10,000 a year ought to be tax deductible so middle class families can choose to send their children to college. I believe that all seniors should be able to choose their own doctors and get prescription drugs from their own pharmacist with Medicare paying half the bill. I believe that parents ought to have more choices with charter schools and public school choice to send their kids always to a safe school. I think we need to make education the number one priority in our country and treat teachers like the professionals that they are, and that's why I have made it the No. 1 priority in my budget, not a tax cut for the wealthiest.
BUSH: Let me talk about tax cuts one more time. This is a man whose plan excludes 50 million Americans.
GORE: Not so.
BUSH: He doesn't believe that -- well, take for example the marriage penalty. If you itemize your tax return, you get no marriage penalty relief. He picks and chooses. He decides whether -- who the right people are. It's a fundamental difference of opinion. I want my fellow Americans to hear one more time. We're going to spend $25 trillion -- we're going to collect $25 trillion of revenue over the next 10 years, and we're going to -- projected to spend $21 trillion. Now, surely, we can send 5 percent of that back to you all who pay the bills. There is a problem.
I want to say something, Jim, wait a minute.
BUSH: This man's been disparaging my plan with all this Washington-fuzzy math.
I want you to hear a problem we've got in America. If you're a single mother making $22,000 a year and you've got two children, under this tax code, for every additional dollar you make, you pay a higher marginal rate on that dollar than someone making $200,000 a year. And that is not right.
And so my plan drops the rate from 15 percent to 10 percent and increases the child credit from $500 to $1,000 to make the code more fair for everybody, not just a few...
LEHRER: All right.
BUSH: ... not just, you know, a handful. Everybody who pays taxes ought to get some relief.
LEHRER: All right, having cleared that up...
... we're going to a new question: education.
Governor Bush, both of you have promised dramatically -- to change dramatically public education in this country. But of the public money spent on education, only 6 percent of it is federal money.
LEHRER: You want to change 100 percent of public education with 6 percent of the money. Is that possible?
BUSH: Well, I tell you, we can make a huge difference by saying, "If you receive federal money, we expect you to show results."
Let me give you a story about public ed, if I might, Jim. It's about KIPP Academy in Houston, Texas. It's a -- it's a charter school run by some people from Teach for America, young folks that said, "Well, I'm going to do something good for my country. I want to teach." A guy named Michael runs the school.
It's a school full of so-called at-risk children. It's how we, unfortunately, label certain children. It means basically they can't learn. It's a school of strong discipline and high standards. It's one of the best schools in Houston.
And here are the key ingredients: high expectations, strong accountability. What Michael says is, "Don't put all these rules on us. Just let us teach and hold us accountable for every grade."
And that's what we do. And as a result, these young, mainly Hispanic, youngsters are some of the best learners in Houston, Texas. That's my vision for public education all around America.
Many of you viewers don't know, but Laura and I sent our girls to public school. They went to Austin High School. And many of the public schools are meeting the call.
But, unfortunately, a lot of schools are trapping children in schools that just won't teach, and we'll change that.
Here's the role of the federal government: One is to change Head Start into a reading program.
Two is to say that if you want to access reading money, you can do so because the goal is for every single child to learn to read. There must be K-2 diagnostic tools, teacher training money available.
Three, we got to consolidate federal programs to free districts, to free the schools to encourage innovators like Michael to let schools reach out beyond the confines of the current structure to recruit -- teach-for-the-children-type teachers.
Four, we're going to say, if you receive federal money, measure third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade, and show us whether or not children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. And, if so, there will be a bonus plan and, and -- but if not, instead of continuing to subsidize failure, the money will go to the parent so the parent can choose a different public school. Federal money attributed to the child will go to the parent for a public school or a charter school or a tutorial or a Catholic school.
What I care about is children, and so does Michael Feinberg. And you know what? It can happen in America with the right kind of leadership.
LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
GORE: Look, we agree on a couple of things on education.
I strongly support new accountability; so does Governor Bush. I strongly support local control; so does Governor Bush.
I'm in favor of testing as a way of measuring performance, every school, every school district, have every state test the children. I've also proposed voluntary national tests in the fourth grade and eighth grade, and a form of testing that the governor has not endorsed. I think that all new teachers ought to be tested, including in the subjects that they teach. We've got to recruit 100,000 new teachers, and I have budgeted for that. We've got to reduce the class size so that the student who walks in has more one-on-one time with the teacher. We ought to have universal preschool. And we ought to make college tuition tax deductible up to $10,000 a year.
I'd like to tell you a quick story. I got a letter today, as I left Sarasota, Florida. I'm here with a group of 13 people from around the country who helped me prepare and we had a great time. But two days ago we ate lunch at a restaurant and the guy who served us lunch sent -- got me a letter today. His name is Randy Ellis (ph), he has a 15-year-old daughter named Kailey (ph), who's in Sarasota High School. Her science class was supposed to be for 24 students. She is the 36th student in that classroom, sent me a picture of her in the classroom. They can't squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand during class.
I want the federal government, consistent with local control and new accountability, to make improvement of our schools the No. 1 priority so Kailey will have a desk and can sit down in a classroom where she can learn.
LEHRER: All right. So, having heard the two of you, voters have just heard the two of you, what's the difference? What's the choice between the two of you on education, Governor?
BUSH: Well, the first is -- the difference is, there is no new accountability measures in Vice President Gore's plan. He says he's for voluntary testing. You can't have voluntary testing. You must have mandatory testing. You must say that if you receive money, you must show us whether or not children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. That's the difference.
You may claim you've got mandatory testing, but you don't, Mr. Vice President. And that is a huge difference.
Testing is the cornerstone of reform. You know how I know? Because it's the cornerstone of reform in the state of Texas. Republicans and Democrats came together and asked the question, "What can we do to make our public education the best in the country?" And we've done a long way working together to do so.
And the cornerstone is to have strong accountability and return for money. And in return for flexibility, we're going to ask you to show us whether or not -- and we ask to post the results on the Internet. We encourage parents to take a look at the comparative results of schools. We've got a strong charter school movement that I signed the legislation to get started in the state of Texas.
I believe if we find poor children trapped in schools that won't teach, we need to free the parents. I think we need to expand education savings accounts. That's something the vice president's vice presidential running mate supports.
Now, there's big differences of opinion. He won't support freeing local districts from the strings of federal money. LEHRER: All right. How do you see the differences?
GORE: Well, first of all, I do have mandatory testing. I think the governor may not have heard what I said clearly. The voluntary national test is in addition to the mandatory testing that we require of states, all schools, all school districts, of students themselves, and required teacher testing, which goes a step farther than Governor Bush has been willing to go.
Here are a couple of differences, though, Jim: Governor Bush is in favor of vouchers, which take taxpayer money away from public schools and give them to private schools that are not accountable for how the money is used and don't have to take all applicants.
Now, private schools play a great role in our society. All of our children have gone to both public schools and private schools. But I don't think private schools should have a right to take taxpayer money away from public schools at a time when Kailey Ellis is standing in that classroom.
Let me give you another example. I went to a school in Dade County, Florida, where the facilities are so overcrowded, the children have to eat lunch in shifts, with the first shift for lunch starting at 9:30 in the morning.
Look, this is a funding crisis all around the country. There are fewer parents of school-age children in the -- as a percentage of the voting population and there's the largest generation of students ever.
We're in an information age when learning is more important than ever. Ninety percent of our kids go to public schools. We have to make it the No. 1 priority: modernize our schools, reduce the class size, recruit new teachers, give every child a chance to learn with one-on-one time in a quality -- high-quality, safe school. If it's a failing school, shut it down and reopen it under a new principal, with a turnaround team of specialists, the way Governor Jim Hunt does in North Carolina.
Here's another difference: The governor, if it's a failing school, would leave the children in that failing school for three years and then give a little bit of money to the parents, a down payment on a down payment for private school tuition, and pretend that that would be enough for them to go out and go to a private school.
BUSH: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
LEHRER: Thirty seconds, Governor. OK.
BUSH: OK. First of all, most good governance is at the state level. See, here's the mentality: I'm going to make the state do this; I'm going to make the state do that.
All I'm saying is, if you spend money, show us results, and test every year, which you do not do, Mr. Vice President. You do not test every year. You can say you do into cameras, but you don't, unless you've changed your plan here on the stage. GORE: I didn't say that. I didn't say that.
BUSH: Secondly -- and you need to test every year, because that's where you determine whether or not children are progressing to excellence.
Secondly, one of the things that we've got to be careful about in politics is throwing money at a system that has not yet been reformed. More money is needed, and I'd spend more money. But step one is to make sure we reform the system, to have the system in place that leaves no child behind, to stop this business about asking, "Gosh, how old are you? If you're 10, we're going to put you here, if you're 12, we'll put you here," and start asking the question, "What do you know?" And if you don't know what you're supposed to know, we'll make sure you do early and before it is too late.
LEHRER: New question: We've been talking about a lot of specific issues. It's often said that, in the final analysis, about 90 percent of being the president of the United States is dealing with the unexpected, not with issues that came up in the campaign.
Vice President Gore, can you point to a decision, an action you have taken, that illustrates your ability to handle the unexpected, the crisis under fire, et cetera?
GORE: When the action in Kosovo was dragging on, and we were searching for a solution to the problem, our country had defeated the adversary on the battlefield without a single American life being lost in combat, but the dictator, Milosevic, was hanging on, I invited the former prime minister of Russia to my house and took a risk in asking him to get personally involved, along with the head of Finland, to go to Belgrade and to take a set of proposals from the United States that would constitute, basically, a surrender by Serbia. But it was a calculated risk that paid off.
Now, I could probably give you some other examples of decisions over the last 24 years. I have been in public service for 24 years, Jim. And throughout all that time, the people I have fought for have been the middle class families, and I have been willing to stand up to powerful interests like the big insurance companies, the drug companies, the HMOs, the oil companies. They have good people and they play constructive roles sometimes, but sometimes they get too much power.
I cast my lot with the people even when it means that you have to stand up to some powerful interests who are trying to turn the policies and the laws to their advantage.
That's -- you can see it in this campaign. The big drug companies support Governor Bush's prescription drug proposal. They oppose mine, because they don't want to get Medicare involved because they're afraid that Medicare will negotiate lower prices for seniors who currently pay the highest prices of all.
LEHRER: Governor Bush? BUSH: Well, I've been standing up to big Hollywood, big trial lawyers -- what was the question? It was about emergencies, wasn't it?
LEHRER: Well, it was about -- well, well, OK.
BUSH: I -- you know, as governor, one of the things you have to deal with is catastrophe. I can remember the fires that swept Parker County, Texas. I remember the floods that swept our state. I remember going down to Del Rio, Texas.
And I've got to pay the administration a compliment. James Lee Witt of FEMA has done a really good job of working with governors during times of crisis.
But that's the time when you're tested not only -- it's a time to test your mettle. It's the time to test your heart, when you see people whose lives have been turned upside down. It broke my heart to go to the flood scene in Del Rio where a fellow and his family just got completely uprooted.
The only thing I knew to do was to get aid as quickly as possible, which we did with state and federal help, and to put my arms around the man and his family and cry with them.
But that's what governors do. Governors are oftentimes found on the front line of catastrophic situations.
LEHRER: New question.
There can be all kinds of crises. Governor, question for you. There could be a crisis, for instance, in the financial area.
LEHRER: The stock market could take a tumble. There could be a failure of a major financial institution. What is your general attitude toward government intervention in such events?
BUSH: Well, it depends, obviously. But what I would do, first and foremost, is I would get in touch with the Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, to find out all the facts and all the circumstances. I would have my secretary of treasury be in touch with the financial centers, not only here, but at home. I would make sure that key members of Congress were called in to discuss the gravity of the situation. And I would come up with a game plan to deal with it.
That's what governors end up doing. We end up being problem- solvers. We come up with practical, common-sense solutions for problems that we're confronted with.
And, in this case, in case of a financial crisis, I would gather all the facts before I made the decision as to what the government ought or ought not to do. LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
GORE: Yes, first, I want to compliment the governor on his response to those fires and floods in Texas. I accompanied James Lee Witt down to Texas when those fires broke out.
And FEMA has been a major flagship project of our reinventing government efforts. And I agree, it works extremely well now.
On the international financial crises that come up, my friend, Bob Rubin, former secretary of treasury is here. He's a very close adviser to me and a great friend in all respects. I have had a chance to work with him and Alan Greenspan and others on the crisis following the collapse of the Mexican peso, when the Asian financial crisis raised the risk of worldwide recession that could affect our economy, and starting -- and now, of course, the euro's value has been dropping, but seems to be under control.
But it started for me -- in the last eight years -- when I had the honor of casting the tie-breaking vote to end the old economic plan here at home and put into place a new economic plan that has helped us to make some progress -- 22 million new jobs and the greatest prosperity ever. But it's not good enough. And my attitude is, you ain't seen nothing yet. We need to do more and better.
LEHRER: So, Governor, would you agree there is no basic difference here on intervening -- federal government intervening in what might be seen by others to be a private financial crisis, if it's that...
BUSH: No, there's no difference on that. There is a difference, though, as to what the economy has meant. I think the economy has meant more for the Gore and Clinton folks than the Gore and Clinton folks has meant for the economy.
I think most of the economic growth that has taken place is a result of ingenuity and hard work and entrepreneurship. And that's the role of government, is to encourage that.
But in terms of the response to the question, no.
GORE: Can I comment on that?
LEHRER: You may.
GORE: See, you know, I think that the American people deserve credit for the great economy that we have. And it's their ingenuity. I agree with that.
But, you know, they were working pretty hard eight years ago, and they had ingenuity eight years ago. The difference is, we've got a new policy, and instead of concentrating on tax cuts mostly for the wealthy, we want -- I want tax cuts for the middle class families, and I want to continue the prosperity and make sure that it enriches not just the few, but all of our families.
Look, we have gone from the biggest deficits to the biggest surpluses; we've gone from a triple-dip recession during the previous 12 years to a tripling of the stock market. Instead of high unemployment, we've got the lowest African-American and lowest Latino unemployment rates ever in history, and 22 million new jobs.
But it's not good enough. Too many people have been left behind. We have got to do much more. And the key is job training, education, investments in health care and education, the environment, retirement security.
And, incidentally, we have got to preserve Social Security. And I am totally opposed to diverting one out of every six dollars away from the Social Security trust fund, as the governor has proposed, into the stock market.
I want new incentives for savings and investment for the young couples who are working hard, so they can save and invest on their own on top of Social Security, not at the expense of Social Security, as the governor proposes.
BUSH: Two points: One, a lot of folks are still waiting for that 1992 middle class tax cut. I remember the vice president saying, "Just give us a chance to get up there, we're going to make sure you get tax cuts." It didn't happen. And now he's having to say it again. It's -- they've had their chance to deliver a tax cut to you.
Secondly, the surest way to bust this economy is to increase the role and the size of the federal government. The Senate Budget Committee did a study of the vice president's expenditures. They projected it could conceivably bust the budget by $900 billion. That means he's either going to have to raise your taxes by $900 billion or go into the Social Security surplus for $900 billion.
This is a plan that is going to increase the bureaucracy by 20,000 people. His targeted tax cut is so detailed, so much fine print, that it's going to require numerous IRS agents.
No, we need somebody to simplify the code, to be fair, to continue prosperity by sharing some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills, particularly those at the bottom end of the economic ladder.
GORE: If I could respond, Jim, what he's quoting is not the Senate Budget Committee, it is a partisan press release by the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee that's not worth the government -- the taxpayer-paid paper that it's printed on.
Now, as for 20,000 new bureaucrats, as you call them, you know the size of the federal government will go down in a Gore administration. In the Reinventing Government Program, you just look at the numbers. It is 300,000 people smaller today than it was eight years ago. Now, the fact is you're going to have a hard time convincing folks that we were a whole lot better off eight years ago than we are today. But that's not the question. The question is, will we be better off four years from now than we are today?
And as for the surest way to threaten our prosperity, having a $1.9 trillion tax cut, almost half of which goes to the wealthy, and a $1 trillion Social Security privatization proposal, is the surest way to put our budget into deficit, raise interest rates and put our prosperity at risk.
BUSH: I can't let the man -- I can't let the man continue with fuzzy math. It's $1.3 trillion, Mr. Vice President. It's going to go to everybody who pays taxes. I'm not going to be one of these kinds of presidents that says, "You get tax relief and you don't." I'm not going to be a pick-and-chooser.
BUSH: What is fair is everybody who pays taxes ought to get relief.
LEHRER: I thought we cleared this up a while ago.
New question on Social Security: Both of you have Social Security reform plans, and we could spend the rest of the evening and two or three other evenings talking about them in detail.
GORE: Suits me.
LEHRER: We're not going to do that. But...
Many experts, including Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan, Vice President Gore, say that it will be impossible for either of you, essentially, to keep the system viable on its own during the coming baby boomer retirement onslaught without either reducing benefits or increasing taxes.
Do you disagree?
GORE: I do disagree, because if we can keep our prosperity going, if we can continue balancing the budget and paying down the debt, then the strong economy keeps generating surpluses. And here's what I would do. Here is my plan.
I will keep Social Security in a lockbox, and that pays down the national debt. And the interest savings, I would put right back into Social Security. That extends the life of Social Security for 55 years.
Now, I think that it's very important to understand that cutting benefits under Social Security means that people like Winifred Skinner, from Des Moines, Iowa who's here, would really have a much harder time, because there are millions of seniors who are living almost hand to mouth. And you talk about cutting benefits. I don't go along with it. I am opposed to it.
I am also opposed to a plan that diverts one out of every six dollars away from the Social Security trust fund. You know, Social Security is a trust fund that pays the checks this year with the money that's paid into Social Security this year.
The governor wants to divert one out of every six dollars off into the stock market, which means that he would drain $1 trillion out of the Social Security trust fund over the -- in this generation -- over the next 10 years. And Social Security, under that approach, would go bankrupt within this generation. His leading adviser on this plan actually said that would be OK, because then the Social Security trust fund could start borrowing. It would borrow up to $3 trillion.
Now, Social Security has never done that. And I don't think it should do that. I think it should stay in a lockbox. And I'll tell you this: I will veto anything that takes money out of Social Security for privatization or anything else other than Social Security.
BUSH: Well, I thought it was interesting on the two minutes he spent about minute and a half on my plan, which means he doesn't want you to know that what he's doing is loading up IOUs for future generations. He puts no real assets in the Social Security system.
The revenues exceed the expenses in Social Security to the year 2015, which means all retirees are going to get the promises made. So for those of you who he wants to scare into the voting booth to vote for him, hear me loud and clear: A promise made will be a promise kept.
And you bet we want to allow younger workers to take some of their own money. See that's a difference of opinion. The vice president thinks it's the government's money. The payroll taxes are your money. You ought to put it in prudent, safe investments, so that $1 trillion, over the next 10 years, grows to be $3 trillion. The money stays within the Social Security system. It's a part of the -- it's a part of the Social Security system.
He keeps claiming it's going to be out of Social Security. It's your money, it's a part of your retirement benefits, it's a fundamental difference between what we believe.
I want you to have your own asset that you can call your own. I want you to have an asset that you can pass on from one generation to the next. I want to get a better rate of return for your own money than the paltry 2 percent that the current Social Security trust gets today.
So Mr. Greenspan missed the -- I thought, missed an opportunity to say there's a third way, and that is to get a better rate of return on the Social Security monies coming into the trust.
There's $2.3 trillion of surplus that we can use to make sure younger workers have a Social Security plan in the future -- if we're smart, if we trust workers and if we understand the power of the compounding rate of interest.
GORE: Here's the difference: I give a new incentive for younger workers to save their own money and invest their own money, but not at the expense of Social Security -- on top of Social Security.
My plan is Social Security-plus. The governor's plan is Social Security-minus. Your future benefits would be cut by the amount that's diverted into the stock market. And if you make bad investments, that's too bad.
But even before then the problem hits, because the money contributed to Social Security this year is an entitlement. That's how it works. And the money is used to pay the benefits for seniors this year.
If you cut the amount going in, one out of every six dollars, then you have to cut the value of each check by one out of every six dollars, unless you come up with the money from somewhere else.
I would like to know from the governor -- I know we're not supposed to ask each other questions, but I'd be interested in knowing, does that trillion dollars come from the trust fund or does it come from the rest of the budget?
BUSH: No. There's enough money to pay seniors today in the current affairs of Social Security. The trillion comes from the surplus. Surplus is more money than needed.
Let me tell you what your plan is: It's not Social Security- plus, it's Social Security plus huge debt, is what it is. You leave future generations with tremendous IOUs.
It's time to have a leader that doesn't put off, you know, tomorrow what we should do today. It's time to have somebody to step up and say, "Look, let's let younger workers take some of their own money and, under certain guidelines, invest it in the private markets." The safest of federal investments yields 4 percent. That's twice the amount and rate of return than the current Social Security trust does.
There's a fundamental difference of opinion here, folks. Younger worker after younger worker hears my call that says I trust you. And you know what? The issue is changing, because seniors now understand that the promise made will be a promise kept, but younger workers now understand we'd better have a government that trusts them. And that's exactly what I'm going to do.
GORE: Could I do a quick response to that, Jim?
LEHRER: We're almost -- let's...
GORE: This is a big issue. This is a big issue. Could we do another round on it?
LEHRER: We're almost out of time.
GORE: Just briefly, when FDR established Social Security, they didn't call them IOUs, they called it the full faith and credit of the United States. If you don't have trust in that, I do.
And if you take it out of the surplus in the trust fund, that means the trust fund goes bankrupt in this generation, within 20 years.
LEHRER: Go ahead.
BUSH: This is a government that thinks a 2 percent rate of return on your money is satisfactory. It's not. This is a government that says younger workers can't possibly have their own asset.
We need to think differently about the issue. We need to make sure our seniors get the promise made.
But I'm going to tell you, if we don't trust younger workers to manage some of their own money with the Social Security surplus to grow from $1 trillion to $3 trillion, it's going to be impossible to bridge the gap without -- what Mr. Gore's plan will do, causing huge payroll taxes or major benefit reductions.
LEHRER: New question.
BUSH: Yes, sir.
LEHRER: Governor Bush, are there issues of character that distinguish you from Vice President Gore?
BUSH: Well, the man loves his wife, and I appreciate that a lot, and I love mine. And the man loves his family a lot, and I appreciate that because I love my family.
I think the thing that discouraged me about the vice president was uttering those famous words, "no controlling legal authority." I felt like that there needed to be a better sense of responsibility of what was going on in the White House.
I believe that -- I believe they've moved that sign, "The buck stops here," from the Oval Office desk to "The buck stops here" on the Lincoln Bedroom. And that's not good for the country. It's not right.
We need to have a new look about how we conduct ourselves in office. There's a huge trust. I see it all the time when people come up to me and say, "I don't want you to let me down again."
And we can do better than the past administration has done. It's time for a fresh start. It's time for a new look. It's time for a fresh start after a season of cynicism.
And so, I don't know the man well, but I've been disappointed about how and his administration has conducted the fund-raising affairs. You know, going to a Buddhist temple and then claiming it wasn't a fund-raiser is just not my view of responsibility.
LEHRER: Vice President Gore?
GORE: Well, I think we ought to attack our country's problems, not attack each other. I want to spend my time making this country even better than it is, not trying to make you ought to be a bad person. You may want to focus on scandals; I want to focus on results.
As I said a couple of months ago, I stand here as my own man, and I want you to see me for who I really am. Tipper and I have been married for 30 years. We became grandparents a year and a half ago; we've got four children. I have devoted 24 years of my life to public service.
And I've said this before and I'll say it again: If you entrust me with the presidency, I may not be the most exciting politician, but I will work hard for you every day, I will fight for middle class families and working men and women, and I will never let you down.
LEHRER: So, Governor, what are you saying when you mention the fund-raising scandals or the fund-raising charges that involved Vice President Gore? What are saying that the voters should take from that that's relevant to this election?
BUSH: I just think they ought to factor it in when they make their decision in the voting booth. And do a better job...
LEHRER: In what way?
BUSH: Pardon me?
LEHRER: In what way?
BUSH: Well, I just, you know, I think that people need to be held responsible for the actions they take in life. I think that...
LEHRER: Go ahead, excuse me.
BUSH: Well, I think that that's part of the need for a cultural change. We need to say that each of us need to be responsible for what we do. And people in the highest office of the land must be responsible for decisions they make in life.
And that's the way I've conducted myself as governor of Texas. And that's the way I'll conduct myself as president of the United States, should I be fortunate enough to earn your vote.
LEHRER: Are you saying all of this is irrelevant, Vice President Gore, to this office?
GORE: No, I think -- I think the American people should take into account who we are as individuals, what our experience is, what our positions on the issues are, what our proposals are. I am asking you, again, to see me for who I really am. I'm offering you my own vision, my own experience, my own proposals. And incidentally, one of them is this: This current campaign financing system has not reflected credit on anybody in either party. And that's one of the reasons that I've said before, and I'll pledge here tonight, if I'm president, the very first bill that Joe Lieberman and I will send to the United States Congress is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.
And the reasons it's that important is that all of the other issues, whether prescription drugs for all seniors that are opposed by the drug companies, or the Patients' Bill of Rights to take the decisions away from the HMOs and give them to the doctors and nurses opposed by the HMOs and insurance companies, all of these other proposals are going to be a lot easier to get passed for the American people if we limit the influence of special interest money and give democracy back to the American people.
And I wish Governor Bush would join me this evening in endorsing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.
LEHRER: Governor Bush?
BUSH: You know, this man has no credibility on the issue. As a matter of fact, I read in the New York Times where he said he cosponsored the McCain-Feingold campaign fundraising bill, but he wasn't in the Senate with Senator Feingold.
And so I -- look, I'm going to -- what you need to know about me is I'm going to uphold the law. I'm going to have an attorney general that enforces the law; that if the time for -- the time for campaign funding reform is after the election, this man has outspent me, the special interests are outspending me, and I am not going to lay down my arms in the middle of a campaign for somebody who has got no credibility on the issue.
GORE: Well, well...
LEHRER: Senator McCain said in -- excuse me, one sec, Vice President Gore.
LEHRER: Senator McCain said in August that it doesn't matter which one of you is president of the United States in January, there's going to be blood on the floor of the United States Senate and he's going to tie up the United States Senate until campaign finance reform is passed that includes a ban on soft money.
First of all, would you support that effort by him, or would you sign a bill that is finally passed that included soft...
BUSH: I would support an effort to ban corporate soft money and labor union soft money so long as there was dues check off. I've campaigned on this ever since the primaries. I believe there needs to be instant disclosure on the Internet as to who's given to whom. I think we need to fully enforce the law. I mean I think we need to have an attorney general that says if the laws are broken, we'll enforce the law. Be strict about it. Be firm about it.
GORE: Look, Governor Bush, you have attacked my character and credibility and I am not going to respond in kind.
I think we ought to focus on the problems and not attack each other.
And one of the serious problems, hear me well, is that our system of government is being undermined by too much influence coming from special interest money. We have to get a handle on it.
And like John McCain, I have learned from experience. And it's not a new position for me; 24 years ago, I supported full public financing of all federal elections. And anybody who thinks I'm just saying it'll be the first bill I'll send to the Congress, I want you to know...
BUSH: Let me just say one thing.
GORE: ... I care passionately about this, and I will fight until it becomes law.
BUSH: I want people to hear what he just said. He is for full public financing of congressional elections. I'm absolutely, adamantly opposed to that. I don't want the government financing congressional elections.
LEHRER: Time up.
LEHRER: I would just say on that wonderful note of disagreement, we have to stop here.
And we want to go now to your closing statements. Governor Bush is first. You have two minutes.
BUSH: Thank you, Jim. Thank the University of Massachusetts. Mr. Vice President, thank you. It's been a good, lively exchange. Obviously, we have huge differences of opinion.
Mine is that I want to empower people in their own lives. I also want to go to Washington to get some positive things done. It's going to require a new spirit, a spirit of cooperation. It's going to require the ability of a Republican president to reach out across the partisan divide and to say to Democrats, "Let's come together to do what's right for America." It's been my record as governor of Texas. It'll be how I conduct myself if I'm fortunate enough to earn your vote as president of the United States.
I want to finally get something done on Medicare.
I want to make sure prescription drugs are available for all seniors. And I want seniors to have additional choices when it comes to choosing their health care plans.
I want to finally get something done on Social Security. I want to make sure the seniors have the promise made will be a promise kept. But I want younger workers to be able to manage some of their own money, some of their own payroll taxes in the private sector under certain guidelines to get a better rate of return on your own money.
I want to rebuild our military to keep the peace. I want to have a strong hand when it comes to -- when it comes to the United States and world affairs. I don't want to try to put our troops in all places at all times. I don't want to be the world's policeman. I want to be the world's peacemaker by having a military of high morale and a military that's well-equipped. I want to have antiballistic missile systems to protect ourselves and our allies from a rogue nation that may try to hold us hostage or blackmail a friend.
I also want to make sure education system fulfills its hope and promise. I've had a strong record of working with Democrats and Republicans in Texas to make sure no child is left behind. I understand the limited role of the federal government, but it can be a constructive role when it comes to reform, by insisting that there be strong accountability systems.
And my intentions are to earn your vote and earn your confidence. I'm asking for your vote. I want you to be on my team.
And for those of you working, thanks. Thanks from the bottom of my heart.
And for those of you making up your mind, I'd be honored to have your support.
LEHRER: Vice President Gore, two minutes.
GORE: I want to thank everybody who watched and listened tonight because this is, indeed, a crucial time in American history. We're at a fork in the road. We have this incredible prosperity, but a lot of people have been left behind.
And we have a very important decision to make: Will we use the prosperity to enrich all of our families and not just the few?
One important way of looking at this is to ask, "Who are you going to fight for?" Throughout my career in public service, I have fought for the working men and women of this country, middle class families. Why? Because you are the ones who have the hardest time paying taxes, the hardest time making ends meet. You are the ones who are making car payments and mortgage payments and doing right by your kids.
And a lot of times, there are powerful forces arrayed against you. And make no mistake about it, they do have undue influence in Washington, D.C., and it makes a difference if you have a president who will fight for you.
I know one thing about the position of president: It's the only position in our Constitution that's filled by an individual who is given the responsibility to fight not just for one state or one district or the well-connected or wealthy, but to fight for all of the people, including especially those who most need somebody who will stand up and take on whatever powerful forces might stand in the way.
There's a woman named Winifred Skinner here tonight from Iowa. I mentioned her earlier. She's 79 years old, she has Social Security. I'm not going to cut her benefits or support any proposal that would. She gets a small pension. But in order to pay for her prescription drug benefits, she has to go out seven days a week, several hours a day, picking up cans. She came all the way from Iowa in a Winnebago with her poodle in order to attend here tonight.
And I want to tell her, I am going to fight for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors. And I'm going to fight for the people of this country for a prosperity that benefits all.
LEHRER: And we will continue this dialogue next week, on October the 11th, at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Caroline. The format then will be more informal, more conversational with the two candidates seated at a table with me.
The third will be October 17th, at Washington University in St. Louis. And that will follow a town hall-type format.
Also, ahead, the day after tomorrow, on October 5, there's the 90-minute debate between the Democratic candidate for vice president, Senator Joe Lieberman, and the Republican candidate, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. It will be held at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. The moderator will be Bernard Shaw of CNN.
Thank you, Governor Bush, Vice President Gore. See you next week.
And for now, from Boston, thank you and good night.
WOODRUFF: For a little over an hour-and-a-half now, the two major-party candidates for president have had a vigorous, spirited exchange of views, two sharply different visions, primarily on the issues, on everything from Social Security, to Medicare, tax cuts, to readiness of the military of the United States, Yugoslavia, the recent FDA approval of the abortion bill RU-486.
There were also credibility and character charges, primarily raised by Governor Bush, who at one point connected the vice president's character to his behavior in the Clinton-Gore administration's alleged campaign finance abuses.
Again, a very vigorous exchange of views, Jeff Greenfield, and Bill Schneider.
GREENFIELD: The first thing we ought to mention is the most trivial. They obviously got the memo on how to dress. They appeared to be clones of each other in the dark suit and red tie. More seriously, it seemed to me that both candidates knew from the get-go what they were trying to do. As we talked about before the debate at some length, George Bush was determined to show that he was up to the task. He got into a lot of issue debates in a way that I think may have surprised some people: taking people through the details, for instance, of his tax proposals. And he was also, I would, say -- the other thing that struck me about Governor Bush was how many times he talked about bipartisanship, how many times he mentioned the fact that he worked with Republicans and Democrats.
I think if there was one overwhelming message he was trying get out, is that he indeed was different from the normal Washington bickering, that he was going to be a president, if he was elected, to bridge party lines.
SCHNEIDER: That's right. Although Gore did mention at one point that he had worked with President Reagan and Bush's father during the Persian Gulf War. Look, a tie goes to the challenger. In many ways, I think Gore -- Governor Bush, who was expected not to be able to hold his own, really, to misspeak -- everybody has heard all the jokes about Bush not being able to talk straight -- well, he held his own against Al Gore.
I would say that a tight race just got tighter. Gore, I think, did a very effective job of selling the idea that this administration has presided over a regime of prosperity. He said: It's not enough. We've got to do more.
He said he's going to secure the safety net. He must have used the word "lockbox" about 20 times. But he got that theme out. I think Bush got across his passionate commitment and concern about education and, as Jeff just said, his determination to work in a cooperative spirit. In many cases, they pointed -- they were very vigorous in pointing out how much they agreed with each other.
GREENFIELD: Well, I think that was -- part of it was that we're -- I think, Bill, you know better than I that negativity is not selling well with most voters. The one place where I think Governor Bush might want to have some words back was at the very end when he said the man has no credibility on the issue.
But he also -- and I think it was a very clear distinction here in that Vice President Gore was talking in great detail about what these new programs would or wouldn't mean, how Governor Bush's programs would -- didn't add up mathematically. And Governor Bush kept saying: Look, the difference is, I want to empower people. You want empower the government. He was clearly trying to sell Al Gore as big-government liberal.
WOODRUFF: He was, time and again, stepping back and trying to paint a bigger picture. And the question we have to have is: Did that effectively come across to the viewers out there, who have not been paying attention to this campaign in the minute detail that some of us who cover it on a regular basis might be?
SCHNEIDER: Judy, I would say this: All of the detailed programs that Gore outlined, securing the safety net, Social Security, Medicare, I think people probably agreed with the vice president on those issues. But the general philosophical outlook that Governor Bush proposed, which was too much big government, Americans also agree with that on a philosophical level, the threat that somehow Gore's program would mean too much spending, too much bureaucracy, too much government. People do agree with both of those.
GREENFIELD: I'm sorry. Go ahead.
WOODRUFF: I was going to say we've got there at the debate site, our Candy Crowley, who's been covering the Bush campaign, and John King, who's been covering not only White House, but the Gore campaign.
John, give us your sense just minutes after this debate ended.
KING: Well, as you've been discussing, obviously, a very close election. Both men came in looking to play to the voters still at play. Governor Bush I thought from the very beginning clearly determined to paint Al Gore as no new Democrat, no Bill Clinton, if you will, when it comes to taxes and spending, trying to say that a Gore administration would mean higher taxes, more government, more government control.
On the other hand, the vice president trying to make the case that the governor is running from the details of his own plans by trying to be -- say that for every dollar I would give in education he would give $5 in tax cuts, trying to repeat essentially the argument Bill Clinton used against Bob Dole, that big tax cuts would be risky, would take away money from popular programs.
The big question that will have to listen to our voters and see what they think is will they believe Governor Bush when he said that's fuzzy math, Washington math, the man's numbers don't add up, or will they trust the vice president when it comes to his very specific rebuttals of the Bush proposals?
WOODRUFF: Candy Crowley, you're also there at the debate site. You've been with -- following the Bush campaign for some time. What is your take on this?
CROWLEY: Well, you know, I guess probably I'd say divide up the debate -- I think the first 45 minutes we were in danger of getting hit by flying numbers. I'm not sure how much those numbers make a difference. After a while, they were just, no, it's 1 trillion this, 1 billion that. I'm one of those that thinks that in the end people walk away from a debate with a general feeling. It isn't, boy, don't you love that $1 trillion, you know, package for this or that. It's a general feeling that they take from it.
And in that, I guess I'd go with, I think it was Bill who said I think they held their own, they both did. And I think in the end that has to favor Bush, at least so far as those who were concerned that he couldn't hold his own, that he wasn't ready for prime time, that he's not ready for the Oval Office. I think at least he showed that he could do that. WOODRUFF: So in other words, when Al Gore hit repeatedly on his allegation that the Bush plan, tax-cut plan gives much more money to the wealthy than anyone else, what you're saying, Candy and John, and here with me, Jeff and Bill, is that those kinds of statements really don't stick?
GREENFIELD: Yes. I mean, we're going to have -- I assume Candy and John are already being inundated with fact sheets from the different campaigns explaining how the other campaign was completely inaccurate. But I think Candy points to a very important point, the language -- I'm sorry -- the atmosphere, beyond the specific words of this debate, at least at first blush, in my eyes, helped Bush, because he was conversational, he was talking to voters. He was not dealing in accountancy things.
He was saying, look, I trust you, Al Gore trusts big government. And I think if you just judge it based on who was communicating in language that voters can pick up, I think Bush may have surprised a lot of people who thought he was incapable of completing a sentence.
SCHNEIDER: He went into this debate with a stature gap. That's happened before. Kennedy faced a stature gap. Even Reagan faced a stature gap with President Carter.
Look, we found that more 70 than percent of voters before the debate said Gore is prepared to be president. Fewer than half think that Bush - thought that Bush was prepared to be president.
I think if he set out to try to erase that stature gap, he held his own, as Candy said, and I think he helped do that.
WOODRUFF: To be fair, I think there were a couple of areas where Bush -- Gore almost seemed to get the last word, and I don't...
GREENFIELD: Foreign policy.
SCHNEIDER: Campaign finance.
WOODRUFF: For example, on the FDA approval of the abortion pill, Bush -- Gore pointed out that Bush had said on the campaign trail the other day that as president he would have the FDA look at this very controversial decision. Again, tonight, on the stage, Governor Bush said not really. So it was left hanging, if you will.
GREENFIELD: There were plenty places where -- one of the nice things about a debate is you do get to see candidates hit in their strong suits. On foreign policy, Al Gore was clearly much more comfortable talking about what he would do with Milosevic than Bush. And it is true at the very end, when Gore was able to say, look, I'm not going to attack you even though you've attacked me, that probably hit a very strong note.
On the other hand, when it came to education, which Governor Bush probably is more secure in discussing than any other issue, Bush did pretty well.
SCHNEIDER: I thought...
WOODRUFF: All right...
SCHNEIDER: ... any opportunity was on campaign finance reform right there at the end when I though he shrunk from making a stronger statement that he could have made.
WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to take a break, as we watch the candidates surrounded by their fans and admirers and family members. We're going to take a break.
When we come back, we expect to speak with the vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party, Richard Cheney. We'll be right back.
WOODRUFF: This is the scene in Tampa, Florida this evening, where our own Wolf Blitzer will be talking with a group of undecided voters who've been sitting and listening and watching the presidential debate from Boston, Massachusetts.
We have some other folks who we want to get their views on this debate right now, and they are CNN's analyst Bob Novak of the "Chicago Sun-Times," and also Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."
Ron, to you first. What do you think?
RON BROWNSTEIN, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, I thought that overall Gore's performance was probably a little steadier, a little more confident than Bush, but like Bill, I think that Bush did well by standing on the same stage and holding his own. That tends to eliminate the stature gap for a challenger.
More important, though, than the personal contrasts, I think, were the issue contrasts. And this was a race that some people thought was going to be devoid of sharp distinctions, and instead we get a very disparate view of the role of government in society and a whole range of visions. And what was striking, though, was that was balanced against a political strategy that sought to balance their tough ideological positions with a lot of reaching out to the other side.
Gore talked about supporting Reagan and supporting Bush. He talked about welfare reform and fiscal discipline, but on the other hand, you saw Bush talk about bipartisanship and trying to reach common ground on abortion. So it was an interesting combination of on the one hand a very stark ideological difference about government, and on the other hand a lot of reaching out to the other side.
WOODRUFF: All right, we're going to bring Bob Novak in as we watch Ron surrounded by the signs of people who are supporting one candidate or another. Bob Novak, was there a winner?
ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I don't think so. You know, on point, I would have to say that Vice President Gore was the winner. He's a terrific debater. He's got all these facts, he memorizes them. He's very tough. But you have to remember, Judy, that the people who -- the people who are really influenced by this debate are the people who haven't made up their mind yet. That's a very small part of the electorate.
Most of the electorate knows which side they want to go to. And so, the people who haven't made up their mind are maybe less impressed by Vice President Gore's debating points by the fact that off camera, he's kind of simpering, he's giggling, he's laughing, he is a -- he's not a very pleasant personality, while George Bush not as effective a debater...
WOODRUFF: Bob Novak, we're going to have to -- Bob Novak, we're going to interrupt you there, you and Ron, and we'll come back to you in a moment, because joining us right now from Cincinnati, Ohio, Dick Cheney, the Republican vice presidential nominee.
Mr. Cheney, thank you for being with us.
DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Good evening, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Well, it was said going into this debate that all George W. Bush had to do was stay standing, hold his own for this debate and he would be all right. Some of the analysis afterwards is that that's what he did. What's your view?
CHENEY: Well, I -- he certainly did that, and I think he did much more. I thought he was very effective tonight, very calm, cool, very disciplined. Laid out the message. Helped draw the contrasts, and there really are fundamental differences between the two approaches to government. Al Gore I think clearly wants to take most of the surplus and spend it on bigger government. We have an interest in supporting programs that give people more choices, more control over their own lives and give some of the surplus back to them, and I thought that contrast was drawn very clear. I thought it was a good night, but I was very proud of my running mate. I thought he did a h*ll of a job.
WOODRUFF: At several points, Vice President Gore said in talking about Governor Bush's tax cut proposal, he said in the first year of the the tax cut, he said the wealthy would get their tax cut, but when it comes to prescription drugs or -- I'm sorry -- Medicare relief he said it would take four or five years for seniors to get the kind of Medicare relief they should have.
CHENEY: He did say that, and that was not true. He said this before. In all of my travels around the country, when I talk about it I point out that we've got a very specific proposal with respect to prescription drugs, we want to pass it immediately as soon as we get there. Long-term, we need to reform the Medicare system and we've got a plan for that. But our short-term prescription care program would provide benefits for people in the very first year. The lady, Winifred (ph), who was there tonight that he had in the audience, gets better and quicker help out of the Bush plan than she would out of the Gore plan. We would have prescription drug benefits for people almost immediately. His doesn't kick in for two years.
WOODRUFF: Mr. Cheney, I'm told we are about to lose our connection with you, but...
CHENEY: All right.
WOODRUFF: ... just before we do, what do you look forward to Thursday night? What do you want to say?
CHENEY: Well, I want to do as well as the governor did. I think that we're going to have a great time on Thursday night. Joe Lieberman and I have an opportunity to get out there. Although we are the second tier, so to speak, the big guys did their thing tonight, nonetheless I think we can help elaborate on some of these issues and point out the differences and make as strong a case as we can why the American people should support us on November 7.
WOODRUFF: All right, Dick Cheney joining us from Cincinnati, Ohio. And we know we'll be watching Thursday night. Thanks very much.
And now we're going to switch from Cincinnati down to Tampa, where Wolf Blitzer has been watching and listening to this debate with a group of voters -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, we've now heard at least from one partisan supporter of George W. Bush, namely, Dick Cheney. We're also standing by to hear from Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential candidate.
We've heard from expert analysts, we're now going to hear from some undecided or persuadable voters, how they reacted to what they heard during this 90-minute-plus debate. We're here at the University of Tampa in the key battleground state of Florida. What we hope to do now is to not only get the reaction of these undecided voters who are sitting here behind me, but also speak about the specific issues that came up during the course of this debate, see if they had any impact at all on influencing these voters whether to support Bush or Gore.
Let's talk to our audience here that's been assembled with the help of our polling partner, the Gallup organization. First of all, a general question, we asked the political pundits this question, we'll ask you, key voter, persuadable voters maybe leaning before the debate one way or another: If you had a say who won this debate, Al Gore or George W. Bush, raise your hand if you think that Al Gore won this debate.
Do you think George W. Bush won this debate? Raise your hand. Who thinks that neither won this debate? All right, so we have a little bit more for Al Gore, the winner, as opposed to George W. Bush, but still a significant number of people here at the University of Tampa in Central Florida, who are not yet convinced. But let's -- let's begin with some people and get your sense of what -- of what happened this -- what happened here this evening.
Who wants to start?
And give us your name, too, when you are introduced.
ALLISON HENRY (ph), AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Allison Henry. I feel more impressed with George Bush than I did before the debate.
BLITZER: Tell us why.
HENRY: I'm real concerned with the values that the presidential candidate is going to bring to the presidency. I feel like the morals of our country have somewhat been diminished. And I do agree with Al Gore that he stands as his own man. But as far as Bush's opinions on abortion, and his issues, just as the sort of man he is, I -- I feel more swayed towards George Bush.
BLITZER: So, at this point, having heard this debate, are you ready to decide now for sure you are going to vote for Bush as opposed to Gore?
HENRY: No, I still want to listen to the other debates. And then I'll make my decision.
BLITZER: All right, let's move on.
What do you think about this debate?
YOLANDA CLIFTON (ph), AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Yolanda Clifton. On knowledge and study, I think Al Gore was more studied on a lot of the -- on a lot of the issues, especially of foreign policy. Bush seemed to stumble a lot on those issues, I thought.
I'm still not convinced, though, because I agree with what Bush says about, we need more bipartisan -- you know, people agreeing, both sides agreeing, getting along, trying to get something done. I mean, there are so many issues that are important: health care, prescription drugs. They're all important, but they've all been issues for longer than the Clinton administration, since the Bush administration before.
But they're still not resolved. And they won't be resolved.
BLITZER: All right. All right. Everybody stand by. We want to go back to Judy Woodruff in Atlanta. She has special guests coming up -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Wolf, thanks very much.
Yes, I believe joining us is Joe Lieberman, who is in the state of Kentucky. He's been there, I guess, since yesterday to prepare for Thursday night's debate.
Senator Lieberman, thank you for being with us.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Glad to be with you, Judy. Hello from Kentucky.
WOODRUFF: And, first of all, what's your reaction? What do you think?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I suppose you could say I have the expected reaction, but I try to be dispassionate. I just thought that...
WOODRUFF: Please be dispassionate.
LIEBERMAN: I am going to be. I just thought that Al Gore was very strong tonight, very optimistic and very presidential. I was just proud of how he handled himself in this debate. And I thought he clarified the differences in the approach of these two tickets to how to use the surplus and our prosperity.
And honestly, George Bush never answered Al's contention that 43 percent of the Bush-Cheney tax cut goes to the top 1 percent of the American people, who make almost $1 million a year. Now, that's just a waste of good money that could be used to improve our schools and health care and make retirement security more secure. So I thought it was a real win for Al.
WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you about two things. One, the comments of these undecided voters that Wolf Blitzer is talking to tonight in Tampa. We just heard one woman say: I am concerned after hearing this debate even more about the morals, the character of the president. She's leaning more toward Governor Bush after hearing him talk about that.
We heard another woman say: Yes, Al Gore seems to know more. But she said: These issues have been around, and how do we know he's going to do anything about it?
What do you say to these people with this -- these kinds of reaction?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I understand those reactions. About the first, I have to got to say that I thought Governor Bush's attack on Al Gore was -- his character and credibility -- was very unfair and not what the campaign should be about. In some ways, in moments the desperation, Governor Bush turns back to attack President Clinton. And his name is not on the ballot. It's Al Gore and me against George Bush and Dick Cheney. And that's what the future is about.
WOODRUFF: But he was talking -- but Governor Bush -- Senator Lieberman, Governor Bush was talking about campaign finance abuses of the Clinton-Gore administration that Al Gore has acknowledged he made mistakes in.
LIEBERMAN: Well, he's acknowledged them. And the fact is that the abuses of the campaign finance system are unfortunately bipartisan and nonpartisan. And it's only Al Gore and me who have accepted John McCain's challenge to stop using soft money in this campaign, which George Bush turned down, and who will support McCain-Feingold and sign it. So -- and George Bush has broken out of the remaining legal limits in the campaign finance system.
So, that -- let me say a word about the woman who talked about the issues being around and needing bipartisan support to get things done. She's right. And I suppose the debate naturally brings out the contentiousness. But over the last eight years, we have worked across party lines in a bipartisan way to reform the welfare system, to pass an anti-crime bill, and probably most important of all, to pass the Balanced Budget Act in 1997, which has helped to create the surpluses that we're now arguing about how to spend.
WOODRUFF: All right, Senator Joe Lieberman, I'd love to ask you about Thursday night, but I gather they're about to pull the plug on us. Thank you very much.
LIEBERMAN: Sorry. We're ready. See you Thursday.
WOODRUFF: We'll see you Thursday night.
LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Thanks very much. We appreciate that.
And are we going back to Tampa? We're going to take a break. When we come back, more from the undecided voters in Tampa.
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