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Presidential Candidates Preparing for High-Stakes Debate Tonight

Aired October 3, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Smile, be assertive, but not aggressive, knowledgeable, but not a know-it-all, and try to relax and be yourself, and hope your opponent makes a mistake. Those words are very likely ringing in the ears of Al Gore and George W. Bush, today, as the two major presidential candidates await their first head-to- head appearance.

CNN's Candy Crowley reports the stakes of tonight's debate have gotten higher as the race has gotten closer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The stakes are in the numbers: 36 days until the vote, a 45-45 dead heat race, up to 80 million people watching, an audience the likes of which neither has ever seen. You have to ask what's at stake?

Everything's at stake -- or not.

MARK FABIANI, GORE DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Sometimes the debates are pivotal, other times they're not, and you never know until they actually happen. That's what makes them exciting to watch.

CROWLEY: OK, put it this way: Everything's at stake, and nothing might happen.

If history holds true, the evening will be equally as much about policy as about the personalities of those who propose them. George Bush and Al Gore come into Boston with almost mirror-image problems. Bush needs to show that the engaging guy you might like to invite for dinner understands government policy, that a guy who occasionally mangles the English language can handle the workings of Washington. In short, George Bush has to show that he's ready for the job.

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIR.: He has a comprehensive agenda for a better America. And I think he needs to outline that agenda, but also show that he's got the judgment and the sense of humor and the convictions that people want to have in their next president.

CROWLEY: For the vice president, the chore is to show that behind his wonk-like love of policy detail is a human being that can be in command without being condescending, that can be presidential without being remote.

FABIANI: I think the guy who came through at the convention, the Al Gore who spoke to people from his heart about the issues who was very detailed about the policies that he wanted to put forward, that's the Al Gore that people liked at the convention when he gave his speech. That's the one they've liked along the campaign trail. And the debate should be no different.

CROWLEY: Neither candidate lacks for advice. The papers, the pundits and the politicos are full of it, all of it ending with the number 1 rule: Be yourself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Now, the historical truth of these debates is that candidates do not so much win them as their opponents lose them. So, rule number two is: If you can't win, don't lose. We are now less than eight hours from showtime and the candidates are beginning to collect here in Boston.

Vice President Al Gore left Florida where he had been holed up with senior advisers for the past weekend practicing for the debates and going over issues as well as talking to some of the real people, as the Gore campaign calls them, that the vice president took along with him.

Now, as for the governor, he has already arrived here in Boston after that swing in West Virginia. The governor came immediately from the airport here to University of Massachusetts, Boston where he took a look at the debate site.

Both candidates, at least the staff say, that they will take some time this afternoon to rest and, perhaps, to exercise. Both of them now have had about all the preparation they can stand. So, pretty much now, the issue is to relax and try to concentrate on being yourself -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Candy Crowley at the debate headquarters.

Thanks Candy.

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