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The Voters Respond: A CNN and 'TIME' Town Meeting -- Part V

Aired October 3, 2000 - 11:46 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Near the end of the debate, there was an exchange on the entire issue of trust and character of the next president of the United States. We have a sample of that exchange.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.




AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 out 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's get some reaction to see how that entire issue of trust and character played with our voters here in Tampa. How did it play with you? And give us your name.

D. WAYNE HELMS (ph), AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is D. Wayne Helms, Wesley Chapel. On the issues of trust, to be perfectly honest, which I don't really trust either one of them. Unfortunately, I think Gore has -- quote/unquote -- "a history" of at least telling half-truths or misspeak -- misspoke or misspeaking. And Governor Bush there, we really don't know, although I think that from Governor Bush I think there are some inconsistencies.

I like when says certain things like his overall vision of empowering the people and the things of that nature. But it seems like he wants to do that on an economic side, which is good. But when it comes to issues like abortion and education, he seems like he wants to say that the government knows what's best. I think Bush would be well-served if he was just consistent all the way through, and that is to say if he's going to empower the people, empower the people not only with the money, but with the whole business of government.

BLITZER: So you don't trust either one. Are you ready to decide tonight who you're going to vote for?

HELMS: No, I'm not -- not ready.

BLITZER: You want to hear more?

HELMS: Well, the thing of it is they got really bogged down into a lot of specifics, and I think that men, which is probably a good thing -- it's not a terrible thing -- but the voter is certainly going to have educate himself with the issues.

So yes, I would need to know more as well as do a lot of research.

BLITZER: You've got five weeks to make up your mind. Go ahead. We've got another voter.

BILL MEYER (ph), AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Bill Meyer, and I agree with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that we do need a little bit more time to decide where we're going with this. But as a far as trust goes, George Bush I have a tendency to trust him. I was in Texas for 15 years. I knew him as a governor, moved over to Florida three years ago, and I've seen him do what he said he was going to do.

On the other hand, I think it was a bit of a cheap shot for him to take at -- at Al Gore in the end linking him with Clinton. I know they're two different people and he is indeed his own man.

I am still undecided quite a bit. There's...

BLITZER: Is there one specific issue that will force you to make a decision, do you think? MEYER: There is one specific issue, somewhat unrelated to trust. It has to do with big government and who has the better programs for limiting the amount of dollars that are spent in the -- particularly with the surplus as large as it is and the amounts of money that they are talking about spending.

One of the questions that comes to mind for me is: What's happened -- what happens if that surplus doesn't -- or comes up short? What are we going to do then?

BLITZER: What if the economy doesn't always hum as it's been humming.

MEYER: Exactly.

BLITZER: All right. We have someone else who wants to tell us. Go ahead.

LISA POLK (ph), AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm Lisa Polk, from, Clearwater, Florida. And...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

POLK: On the issue of trust, I don't trust anyone right now. I still need to see more of what their issues are. Tonight, it was a lot of the health care and things like that, that right now, I'm not concerned with.

BLITZER: Have you have any personal experiences with government that has resulted in your not trusting these two presidential candidates?

POLK: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: Tell us what happened.

POLK: Right now, my main concern is the child support enforcement procedures. And so until I hear something as far as that, or the welfare reform, that sort of thing, I'm not going to make any decision.

BLITZER: So you're still undecided?

POLK: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: All right. Judy Woodruff, our anchor in Atlanta has a question that she wants to ask this group.

Judy, go ahead.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I'm actually just picking up on what we've been hearing some of this group say. We've heard one of them, I believe, say they wanted to hear -- he or she wanted to hear more about race and dealing with race relations in the United States. We just heard this young woman say she would be interested, perhaps, in hearing more about welfare reform. I just wondered if you go around the room, Wolf, and ask from more of the people there what they would like to hear in the next two presidential debates and even in the vice presidential debate. What is it that the they want to hear from these candidates that they haven't heard?

BLITZER: All right, those are good points, because there is going to be two more presidential debates, one vice presidential debate. What -- who wants to speak about that? What do you want to hear coming out -- come out in these next two debates?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to know what the candidates feel about -- if they would support legislation that will mandate gun manufacturers to install safety locks on guns, and how they will hold individual gun-owners accountable when their guns are used to kill children.

BLITZER: The whole issue of gun control did not come up.

Who has another question that they would ask if they could?

Yes. Please identify yourself.

EVELYN FERRERY (ph), AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm Evelyn Ferrery, Temple Terrace, Florida. Neither candidate addressed teachers tonight. And I would really like for them to cover this issue in the next debate. We need to attract more teachers, more qualified people to go into education.

BLITZER: Did you make up your mind based on what you heard?

FERRERY: Not quite.

BLITZER: What's still out there?

FERRERY: I still want to know about teachers. I'm a retired teacher. I taught 26 years. I started out with a salary of $2,300. And in 1991, when I retired, I was making $31,000. And through my last 10 or 12 years of experience, many, many fine men who were in the teaching profession left because they could not support their families on a teacher's salary. And I would like this addressed so that -- I think a lot of people want to hear this.

BLITZER: All right. Good point.

Go ahead. Did you make up your mind tonight? And tell us your name.

MACHMUD SALENE (ph), AUDIENCE MEMBER: Machmud Salene from Palm Harbor, Florida. I really didn't hear anything tonight from either candidate about the problem in the Middle East. It's a problem -- how they would handle the problem there, because they have to decide what they're going to do with the Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem.

Neither one of them -- or there was no questions about it. I was surprised that there was none, no discussion about that, because it will -- does concern this country. If a war start there, the whole war is going to be in big trouble, I believe.

BLITZER: And so you're still undecided. Is that what you're saying?

SALENE: I'm leaning toward Governor Bush, but I still wait a little bit to see what they're going to talk about that.

BLITZER: Remember, there are still two more debates that are coming up. You might get some answers.

I want to thank everyone here at the University of Tampa. I want to thank the University of Tampa for hosting this town meeting. It's been a special evening for all of us. I want to thank Dan Goodgame, Tamala Edwards of "TIME" magazine.

As you can see, Judy, there are still a lot of undecided persuadable voters, as Gallup calls them, here at the University of Tampa -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: That's right, Wolf. Thanks to you and thanks to all your voters.

I have to tell you that everybody here on the set of CNN Center in Atlanta, Bill Schneider, Jeff Greenfield and I, we've been riveted listening to every word they've been saying. So tell them it was very helpful for us to listen to them.

We're going to take a break. We'll be right back with a few final words about tonight's presidential debate.


WOODRUFF: And the suggestions keep coming. As you can see, people suggesting, this person saying, I want to hear more about what the candidates' visions for the country. We heard from the voters in Tampa, the one saying, I want to hear more about the Middle East. What would they do about this terrible situation? 50, 60 people dead in terrible fighting in the last few days. A woman saying I want to hear about gun control.

So, Jeff Greenfield, Bill Schneider, one down, two to go, plus the vice presidential debate. Where are we in this process?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I think if I had to guess -- and that's all this is -- I think we are no further to a resolution of where the country is going to go than we were at the start. I mean...

WOODRUFF: Meaning how the election is going to turn out?

GREENFIELD: Yes, yes. I mean, I still think that -- that it's one of those weird -- not weird nights, but nights where the Gore people can take heart that their guy was a master of the facts, and the Bush people can take heart that their guy stepped up and seemed to be reasonably comfortable.

The one thing I would think is that the closing comments where Bush went after Gore on credibility, in an era when voters -- particularly independent, undecided voters -- really don't want to hear any of that may have been one thing that the Bush campaign would like to take back.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Judy, I guess it's news that Bush didn't screw up, which is what a lot of people expected. I think he accomplished something and he didn't accomplish something. What he accomplished was I think more people feel comfortable with George Bush, because the image that had been put out there was a bumbler who couldn't pronounce words and he made lots of mistakes.

But what he did not accomplish -- and I do think people are more comfortable with him -- what he did not accomplish was very simple. The only way he wins this election is he's got to give people a reason to vote for change. You noticed how Gore talked about prosperity. Bush talked about failures of leadership. I don't know if people see those failures.

And his effort, Bush's effort to try to make character an issue at the end I though were awfully halting and tentative, and I'm not sure they worked. I don't think enough voters have a reason to vote for change at this point.

WOODRUFF: Some of his answers were almost incomplete. He would say a few words and then his voice would almost trail off. Not on every instance, I thought on education he was very forceful. His answers were complete and several...

GREENFIELD: You know what: Gore -- Bush has to some extent the problem that Bob Dole had four years ago, which is character is a strong issue when we think of the Republicans, but voters seem not to want to hear about it. And there's an old saying: When you strike at the king, be sure you kill him. And if you're going to raise the character issue, you have to do it, it seems to me, in an unapologetic and forceful way. And you can't do it by saying, well, I -- you know, I'm a little disappointed in this, because people are going to penalize you for raising the issue and not give you credit for drawing bright lines.

It's a tough road and it explains why -- why Bush in a time of peace and prosperity, running against an incumbent party, has a tough road.

WOODRUFF: Well, we certainly don't want any dead bodies in all of this, but the point is well-taken.

GREENFIELD: Metaphorically, metaphorically.

WOODRUFF: Absolutely. It's only a metaphor.

Bill Schneider, Jeff Greenfield, it's been a pleasure to be with the two of you for the last seven hours. GREENFIELD: Good, because we're going to do it again in 48 hours.

WOODRUFF: We're going to do it again on Thursday night and then on the 11th and the 17th. On behalf of Jeff and Bill and the dozens of folks at CNN involved in our debate coverage tonight, thank you for joining us.

When we come back, Jim Moret will anchor our replay of tonight's presidential debate in full, and then we'll have analysis from Los Angeles, and we're going to hear more from the other side of this country.

Thanks very much for being with us. We'll see you again tomorrow.



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