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Special Event

Election 2000 Presidential Debate: The Spin Room

Aired October 12, 2000 - 0:00 a.m. ET

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

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: This is THE SPIN ROOM at Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where representatives from the campaigns come to convince reporters that their guy did the better job.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: This is THE SPIN ROOM that reaches all the way across the United States from sea to shining sea. This is where you can tell us your take on what the candidates said tonight.

PRESS: Well, Tucker, there we were, you and I both fighting to stay awake during this college seminar. It's another seminar.

CARLSON: This was like masterpiece, there was a PBS sort of flavor to this, wasn't there?

PRESS: Much too PBS. Much too little crossfire if I may sum it up.

I think it's clear that Cheney and Lieberman set the tone for this debate. And a campaign manager said they got such high marks that we have to do it just like they did, unfortunately I'd have to say.

CARLSON: This is tragic. This is exactly what happened to network television four years ago when "Friends" came out and every show looked like "Friends." I mean, it was sad. It was following the strictest kind of structure and formula. And the formula didn't work for these guys.

PRESS: So what I want to know is since when -- when did the new rules come out saying that politicians have to be nice to each other, that candidates cannot disagree with each other except very painfully disagree? You know, they're drug testing for the Olympics. I think they ought to drug test these guys for Valium. Both of them.

CARLSON: In 1984, during a candidate's debate in New Hampshire, Fritz Hollings, who was then running for president, made fun of his opponent's facial tick on live television. So it wasn't always this way.

You used to be able to be a serious politician and still have some rough edges. Amen.

PRESS: And I must say, I mean, I really thought for Al Gore tonight -- and I'm supporting Al Gore -- but there were lots of missed opportunities. There were times when I know he knew what George Bush was saying was wrong. I know he knew what to follow up. I know he knew the facts. I know he could have killed him. And he didn't.

He just sat there. It was like he was afraid to break the rules. What are rules for?

CARLSON: I have to say Bush was unusually good, though. He was totally fluid. He was in command of details in a way I've never seen him. And I've watched him for a while.

But Gore was appallingly bad. He was spooked. He was afraid to be the way he is.

And afterward, we get the sense that the Gore transmission has one speed, attack. And when you disable it, Gore is really adrift. He's off. He doesn't know what to do. If he can't attack, he's kind of pathetic.

PRESS: I wouldn't say -- I thought Bush, he looked relaxed. It was his format. And it was good for him to choose that format.

He certainly looked relaxed. I thought he looked positively vapid when it came to discussing some of the issues. And we'll get into some of those as we get some of these thoughts.

We've got a question here from the chat room I believe we're going to see up on the screen? "Why is Gore trying to make himself look like Reagan?"

CARLSON: Oh, I don't know. Reagan was elected twice. Why not?

PRESS: I don't understand for the life of me how Gore was -- or was he trying to look like Reagan? I think if anybody was trying to look like Reagan, it might have been George W. Bush.

I don't know. But let me just tell you, the moment -- the first 45 minutes of the debate I thought were just the slowest of all, right? When they went into this extensive detail, or not so detail, it was more a platitudinous discussion of foreign policy. And both of them agreed on this one point I'd like to remind you and our viewers about. Let's take a look at it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if we're an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way. If we're a humble nation, they'll respect us. A humble nation.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I agree with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: They both agreed. Humble nation. What kind of nonsense is that? I mean, seriously, humility in politics? Humility in foreign policy? What does the United States have to be humble about? CARLSON: The deeper question is who wants to lead a humble nation? Honduras is a humble nation. Come on, this is a proud nation.

Let's ask Rick (ph) from California, who is on the line. A humble nation?

Hi, Rick.

CALLER: Hi, guys. I think one of you was saying that Gore was appalling you bad. And I think that puts it mildly.

Look, I'm calling from California, was pretty undecided until tonight's debate. And when I was listening to George Bush, he came across very presidential, very compassionate. And I think he's got the focus to lead this country.

I am the epitome of the middle class. And to tell you the truth, when he shores up all the social problems -- Medicare, Social Security -- has some money left over, I think the middle class should get a tax break.

And I think he put Gore in his place. I think he showed Gore was not presidential and wants big government.

So I was very impressed with George Bush. I'm definitely voting for George Bush.

CARLSON: Good for you. And may the rest of California do the same.

PRESS: Spoken like a true Bush supporter. But I'd have to say I think Gore doesn't -- I mean Bush doesn't start by giving the middle class a tax break. He gives the wealthiest one percent -- there's the one percent again, Tucker. I'm one of the one percenters. I should appreciate that.

CARLSON: Who will (INAUDIBLE)? Seriously, what a discriminated against group, the evil one percent. I like the one percent.

PRESS: Nobody has to stand up for us one percent. We can take care of ourselves.

After we 1 percent get it, then maybe there will be a little bit left to trickle down to the other one percenters. At least, Tucker, can we agree? No more humility in broadcasting, no more humility in politics.

CARLSON: I agree.

PRESS: Back to arrogance.

CARLSON: You can overdo friendliness too. And I think even George W. Bush, who in some ways was benefiting I think from the friendly tone tonight, seemed to recognize this. Listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The administration -- it seems like we're having a great love-fest tonight -- but the administration made the right decision...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: The administration made the right decision. That was not -- you know, we could have picked 15 examples of George W. Bush saying tonight, "The administration made the right decision." I found it disconcerting.

At a certain point you wonder, if it's making so many right decisions, why exactly are you running for president?

PRESS: No, amen, amen. Every time Bush said that, that's the question that came to my mind. He said the U.S. was right -- basically was talking about foreign policy at the time.

It was right in Kosovo. It was right in the Persian Gulf. It was right here. I admire what they did there. I admire what Clinton- Gore did there.

It sounded like a commercial for the Clinton-Gore administration, like four more years. And I think every time he agreed with Gore, Clinton-Gore, and every time by the way Gore agreed with him, I thought each of them looked weak.

CARLSON: But I think it's clear that this is not accidental. They've poll tested this business, this warmth, this friendliness. People like this. You and I are definitely in the minority here because we prefer rough, cheap, mean, horrible, nasty politics. Most people don't like it at all. They want it to be like a chat show.

PRESS: Do you really think that?

CARLSON: I really do think that.

PRESS: But I -- see, here's what I think. I believe that the people are looking for differences between these two candidates. This race is so close that they really want to see now, "OK, where do you differ? And which one do I like better?" And Lehrer tried to get to that tonight very softly. So do you agree? Do you disagree here? Or where do you disagree on the environment? And each time, both of these guys kept trying to come together...

CARLSON: That's exactly right.

PRESS: ... rather than to show here's where I am, and here's where he is. And that's what drove me crazy.

CARLSON: A critical point. I mean, guns came up. And all of a sudden, Gore announces, "Actually, I'm for protecting not just the rights of hunters and sportsmen, but of homeowners," of the guy waving the pistol around at the intruder. I mean, this is not far off from what the NRA thinks. This does not sound like Al Gore moving dramatically to the right on a subject that he hoped months out to campaign on.

PRESS: Again, the way I put it earlier, missed opportunities I thought on guns, missed opportunity for Gore on gay marriages, missed opportunity for Gore on the environment, missed opportunities for Gore where he really could have gone in and finished Bush off, which I wanted him to do and I think some of the American people might have appreciated.

CARLSON: Speaking of the American people, let's see what's happening in the chat room.

PRESS: "Is it fair to question Bush's experience? What was Clinton's experience eight years ago?" Take a stab at that one, Tucker?

CARLSON: Well, sure. Of course it's fair to question his experience. Of course it is. And I think it would be fair for Bush to come back and say, "Gee, Teddy Roosevelt was elected at a much younger age than I was. And so was John F. Kennedy, et cetera, et cetera." But I mean, it's completely fair and totally within bounds I think for the Gore campaign, as it has done repeatedly, to attack his record as Texas governor and also to imply that he's callow and inexperienced and really ought not to be given nuclear weapons. Yeah, it's totally fair.

PRESS: You know, I don't think they've attacked his Texas record enough. I think they've given him a free ride on his Texas record.

But I agree with you. It is totally fair. It is fair for George Bush and Dick Cheney to say that it's been eight years of wasted opportunities, the Clinton-Gore administration hasn't done anything, to attack their record. And it's certainly fair for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman to take a look at the Texas record to see if it's as good as George Bush claims it is. I don't think it is. But...

CARLSON: But I -- we have a broad ground of agreement here. We both like attacks.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Attacks are fair. That's actually kind of the bottom line. Most attacks are pretty accurate.

PRESS: The only thing we agree on is they ought to be more nasty. OK. We have another question here from our chat room.

"Bush looked very presidential. Why is everyone so surprised by that?"

You know what I'd say? I think the reason why everybody is so surprised is because the expectations have been set so low for George Bush. I mean, there is some advantage to being considered as an intellectual midget because if you just sit there, or you sound informed, people are going to say, "Whoa, he's a giant."

CARLSON: That's right. Actually, midway through the night I thought, I had this whole diabolical scheme unfolded in my mind. What if last week Bush intentionally sort of like an old-fashioned baseball team kind of threw the match to lower expectations for him? Then he comes back tonight and acted so much more in command, so much more in control, so much better. Maybe it was a setup from the beginning.

What do you think? Too conspiratorial?

PRESS: Too conspiratorial perhaps. Also I wanted to be sure that we share some of these chat rooms. We didn't get to all of them a little earlier because I think some of these comments are great.

Charles (ph) from Vermont says, "Gore" -- in fact, let's talk a little bit about this -- "Gore was at his best when he was attacking Bush's Texas record. Why is he just starting this tactic?"

Charles, my question indeed. Joe Lieberman is going to be in Texas tomorrow on what he calls a failed leadership tour.

But I think that Bush is vulnerable on a lot of this stuff. He showed it tonight. And they should have started this a lot earlier.

CARLSON: Doesn't matter. You've got to kick him when he's down.

It's not possible to convince voters of something, to bring a new theme, this late in the game. I agree as a matter of pure sort of tactical considerations, they should have been hitting him a long time ago on this. And they didn't. And it's going to look lame and desperate, the missed opportunities to whatever this thing Lieberman is going on, it's going to be a terrible disaster.

PRESS: But we're not the only spinners, you know, tonight out there. In fact, in just a few minutes, we're going to get the Gore and Bush camps' spin on tonight's debate. From the Gore campaign, Deputy Communications Director Todd Webster, and the Bush-Cheney 2000 Press Secretary Mindy Tucker. They're going to be joining us live from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Tucker.

CARLSON: We have to take a break. More of what you're saying about tonight's match-up when THE SPIN ROOM continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to THE SPIN ROOM, where you get to give your take on what George W. Bush and Al Gore had to say in tonight's presidential debate.

And let's go back to our spin room here. Comments flying in here from all across the country.

This is a question they should have asked at the debate.

CARLSON: That's a great question.

PRESS: "I'm a single white male making $40,000. What do I get from Al Gore?"

CARLSON: I can answer that question. Nothing, pal. Don't vote for him.

No, actually you do. That's not true.

It's interesting. Gore isn't getting a lot of support from single white males making $40,000 a year. But actually, his message is pretty narrowly focused not on white males but on people making in that range.

So it's interesting to me. Tonight, he all but promised brand new SUVs for every soccer mom with that $10,000 college tuition credit.

But it's interesting. It's not working for men anyway.

PRESS: Well, I think the truth of it is that that guy making $40,000 a year is going to get a lot more of a tax cut from Al Gore than he is from George Bush. And he's also going to get a tax credit to help put his kids through college...

CARLSON: He's single.

PRESS: ... I would say that...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: He's going to have kids I hope.

CARLSON: You're a very hopeful guy.

PRESS: Take another look at Al Gore. All right, here's back to the phones now. This is Sue (ph) calling from Illinois, one of those battleground states.

Hi, Sue. Good evening. Welcome to THE SPIN ROOM.

CALLER: Hi, good evening.

PRESS: What's your question or comment?

CALLER: My comment is I'm from Illinois and I belong to a very prestigious health club in Illinois where there are a lot of Republicans as well as Democrats. And I don't think it's just the candidates. I think it's the parties and what they are standing for.

And I think that Gore's party stands for people and the environment. And I think that's very important.

CARLSON: Is that?

PRESS: All right, that's a comment. Tucker.

CARLSON: That's what they're saying at the health club in Illinois. PRESS: That's what they're saying at the health club in Illinois.

CARLSON: Well, I think people who go to prestigious health clubs are part of the backbone of Al Gore's support.

PRESS: Well, let me just say I think what she's touching on is the environment is an underrated issue in politics in general and in this campaign. And it's one issue on which Gore has got credentials and Bush has zip.

CARLSON: Well, it was interesting, when they did talk about that, when Lehrer read that quote from the book that we often -- we don't hear a lot about actually. I think the Bush people have...

PRESS: I want to ask you a question. What are the chances that George Bush has read that book?

CARLSON: I would say roughly zero. Of course he hasn't read the book. It doesn't matter. He should be talking about the book. And the quote that Lehrer read tonight about the organizing principle around the environment, it was spooky. I mean, the hair on my arms went up when I heard that.

PRESS: There are spookier comments in the book.

CARLSON: Maybe.

PRESS: But as promised, we're going to go out to THE SPIN ROOM now in Winston-Salem.

And joining us from THE SPIN ROOM down there doing their job, Todd Webster, deputy communications director for the Gore campaign, and Mindy Tucker, press secretary for Bush-Cheney 2000.

Todd and Mindy, good evening. Thank you for joining us.

TODD WEBSTER, GORE CAMPAIGN DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Good evening.

PRESS: This is the real spin room.

Mindy, let me start with you. In fact, I'll tell you what. I'd like to give each of you -- Mindy, start with you -- 30 seconds to make your best pitch for why -- I know what you're going to say -- why Bush won the debate tonight. Just get it over with.

MINDY TUCKER, BUSH-CHENEY 2000 PRESS SECRETARY: I think first and foremost he was able to articulate a clear principle behind foreign policy. And Al Gore was not able to.

The governor also made clear his compassionate conservative philosophy, especially on the issue of education when he talked about the need to really educate every child in America and close the achievement gap between minority students and other students. I think overall he showed that he's in command of all the issues. He's confident. He's ready to lead this country. And he's got a clear vision of where he wants to take it.

PRESS: All right, that was actually 20 seconds. Good job, Mindy.

Todd, can you get Tucker to do the same?

CARLSON: Hit us with it, Todd.

WEBSTER: Sure. This debate was about -- focused on two things, foreign affairs and domestic affairs.

On foreign affairs, George Bush basically agreed with the administration's position. He was able to name the leader of Russia. And I congratulate him for being able to get his name right. Fortunately, it was only two syllables long. The one place where he slipped up, though, was saying we needed to draw American troops out of Haiti when in fact they have already left Haiti.

On the domestic front, he spent most of the debate defending his record in Texas from the fact that their fiftieth in the nation on children's health coverage, to the fact that Houston is the most polluted city in the country, to the fact that he pointed the chemical lobbyists to...

CARLSON: Time's up...

WEBSTER: ... serve on environmental commissions...

CARLSON: ... that's it, Todd.

PRESS: Time's up.

CARLSON: Let me ask you the deeper question, Todd...

WEBSTER: Gore was able to...

CARLSON: ... Wait, let me ask you this. What happened to your guy today? I mean, he looked so innervated, so lacking energy, kind of heavy lids. He looked like he took a shot of secanol (ph) or something. Where was the animated Al Gore that we know and love? Where was he, Todd?

WEBSTER: He was there. He was engaged. He was talking about his issues. He was talking about middle class tax cuts. He was talking about education. He was talking about prescription drugs and health care.

He was speaking directly to the American people. And that's what he had to do.

CARLSON: He was speaking very, very slowly I thought, but without the usual pep. Did this go completely unnoticed by the Gore campaign that he seemed sort of down, he seemed like he was getting a little kicked around?

WEBSTER: So you criticize him for sighing. You criticize him for being stiff. You criticize him for being down. How can Al Gore win? How would you like to see Al Gore speak to you?

CARLSON: You're catching on, Todd.

WEBSTER: He articulated his vision. He talked about his record and his vision and also about George Bush's record, which in Texas is not very good.

PRESS: Mindy, I want to ask you a couple of specifics. You mentioned foreign policy. And one of the things that the governor said was in the Balkans -- talking about the Balkans, he said he would get in touch with the Europeans and get them to commit troops to the Balkans so the United States didn't have to carry the whole load.

Now, I spotted that right away. I double-checked my notes afterwards. There are 50,000 troops in the Balkans now in Bosnia, 8,000 of them come from the United States. All the rest come from European nations. There are 30 different countries that have troops in the Balkans.

Now did the governor not know that? Or does he think 8,000 is still too many? What is his position?

TUCKER: The point is that there are American troops over there. And what he wants to do is make sure that we don't have troops in every spot in the world.

We need a clear mission, a clear defined goal when we send American troops overseas. We need to know what they're doing, why they're going, and when they're going to come home. We don't just need to be sending them out willy-nilly with no clear mission, no clear goal.

I think that's his point is we need to let other people take the full load and remove American troops from those places where we can, where it's not necessarily in our strategic national interests to do so.

Todd said earlier he thought we agreed on foreign policy. And I think the governor actually made a very clear contrast with Al Gore tonight when he talked about this very issue. Al Gore seems to want to put American troops wherever he feels like it's necessary at that moment in time, whether it meets our strategic national interests or not, whether it matters to the American people or not.

He has no concern for where these American troops are going to be. Their lives may be at stake, and what they're doing.

Governor Bush clearly iterated tonight...

PRESS: OK...

TUCKER: ... the clear principle about how he wants to deploy our troops...

PRESS: ... Mindy...

TUCKER: ... for clear reasons, clear reasons why they're going, a clear mission, and...

PRESS: ... Mindy -- no, with that comment, I'm sorry, we're just out of time.

Mindy, thanks very much for joining us. And Todd Webster, thank you for being there in THE SPIN ROOM. Both of you, thanks for being there tonight.

CARLSON: What do members of the media think about tonight's debate?

PRESS: Well, we're going to hear from two journalists who have been following the campaign, Salon.com's Jake Tapper and Robert George of the "New York Post."

CARLSON: We'll also get more reaction from you when THE SPIN ROOM continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CNN's SPIN ROOM, where you get to say how you thought the candidates did in tonight's presidential debate.

CARLSON: And we'll hear from two journalists who watched tonight's face-off -- intently, one hopes -- in just a few minutes.

But first, more of what you were saying.

PRESS: In fact, we're going to start right now by going back to the phones. All the way from Hawaii, here is Chris (ph).

Hello, Chris. Welcome to THE SPIN ROOM.

CALLER: Hello. How are you?

PRESS: Hi. Your comment or question, please?

CALLER: I thought that there might have been some inconsistencies or maybe some contradictions from Bush tonight. I thought that in the issue of racial profiling that first he said that that should be enforced locally by the states, and then later on he said that the federal government should intervene and enforce those laws.

CARLSON: Well, I mean, I understood him to say that -- that the federal government shouldn't -- shouldn't enforce it with any sort of blanket policy, but that...

PRESS: I mean, I heard...

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: ... ought to come in.

PRESS: Yeah, I heard both of them say that it's up to the states to do it, but if the states aren't doing it, then the federal government's got to step in, probably, and make them do it. I mean, I didn't see a lot of disagreement between...

CARLSON: Right. I saw an incredible amount...

PRESS: ... the two of them.

CARLSON: ... of phony posturing on the subject, though. Did you catch that?

PRESS: In fact -- let me -- let me show you another -- another question where I thought both of them fell a little short. And this is when the question came up about gay marriage. You'll remember. Here's George Bush and then Al Gore's immediate response just to remind ourselves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH (R), TEXAS GOVERNOR, PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm not for gay marriage. I think marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. And I appreciate the way the administration signed the Defense of Marriage Act.

ALBERT GORE (D), VICE PRESIDENT, PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: But I think that we should find a way to allow some kind of civic unions. And I basically agree with Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman. And I think the three of us have one view and the governor has another view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: First of all, right there -- I mean, I think it was clear that Gore never followed through to say "The three of us will allow some sort of form of civil union. You just say you're against it, period." Missed opportunity.

CARLSON: But it was also -- it was missed partly because it was completely confusing. I mean, the average person watched that, said, "Huh? Wait. Gore is running with Dick Cheney, too?" I mean, it really was completely -- because at another point, Gore made it pretty clear that he's not in favor of gay marriage. So I mean, you really, at some point, have to choose one or the other.

But let's ask -- let's ask our journalist friends what they think. Now we get the spin from two journalists who watched tonight's debate. Joining us from Winston-Salem North Carolina is Jake Tapper, Washington correspondent for Salon.com's Politics 2000 Web site. And in New York is Robert George, associate editorial page editor for the "New York Post."

PRESS: OK, Mr. George...

JAKE TAPPER, SALON.COM: Hi, guys. How are you? PRESS: Hey.

CARLSON: Hi, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERT GEORGE, "NEW YORK POST": Before we start, Bill, I'd like to say I agree with whatever you're going to say. And Tucker, I agree with you. And Jake, I agree with you, as well.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: You're a good man, Robert George. Glad to have you!

PRESS: That's -- that sets the tone for the entire evening. But Robert, let me start with a question that one of our, actually, people in the chat room tonight started with. If George Bush agrees so much with everything that Clinton and Gore have done, why should we change directions? I mean, wasn't that a question that came out of this debate tonight?

GEORGE: Well, I mean, I think he had -- I think the -- I think the governor said that he had some agreements on a couple of specific instances on foreign policy, but there was a basic, I guess you could call it a vision argument that Bush has with the Clinton and -- with the Clinton-Gore administration. I think that's basically what he was -- or what he was trying to say, in the sense of giving more of an idea of under exactly what circumstances American forces are going to be -- are going to be deployed.

CARLSON: You know, Jake, let me ask you a question. I know that you know a lot of people in the Gore campaign. You spend a lot of time traveling with Gore. Watching this tonight, my first thought mid-way through was almost an epiphany: This guy's going to lose the election. I thought it was a disastrous performance. What do they think? Have you talked to the Gore people? Do they think that -- that there was a giant flushing sound at the end of the debate?

TAPPER: Well, they're saying a lot that -- you know, they're spinning in the spin room, and they're saying that Gore -- that this was -- you know, this was the format that Bush wanted, conversational, sitting at a table. Also, I think one of the things that went into it is Gore has spent the last week so on the defensive that he basically was self-censoring himself. And it ended up being a relatively emasculated performance by him.

He didn't go after Bush on a number of blatant misrepresentations that Bush made about his own record. You know, when asked about the CHIP program, Bush fought tooth and nail as governor to make it a 200 percent of the poverty level, and Bush was, like, "Don't judge my heart. Don't judge my heart." And Gore was, like, "Oh, I'm not judging your heart. I'm not!"

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: You know, and it just -- and it went on like that all night. You know...

CARLSON: Oh, no heart-judging, Jake.

CARLSON: ... Bush is talking about -- Bush was talking about how there was no need for a hate crimes line because three guys were put to death...

PRESS: Hey, Jake...

TAPPER: Yeah?

GEORGE: And it -- but basic...

PRESS: Jake, I have to interrupt...

GEORGE: I mean, basically...

PRESS: Robert, I'm sorry, I've got to interrupt. I don't have a hard heart either. We just have to take a hard break right here. So Jake Tapper and Robert George, hold on. We'll take a quick break. Then we'll come back to you.

CARLSON: And when we come back, more from Jake and Robert George and your comments on tonight's debate.

THE SPIN ROOM continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CNN's SPIN ROOM. We're listening to what you have to say coast to coast about how Al Gore and George W. Bush did tonight in their second debate.

CARLSON: And we're also getting the spin from two journalists. Jake Tapper of Salon.com is in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in the cramped and sweaty spin room there. And Robert George of the "New York Post" joins us, of course, from New York.

PRESS: We'll get back to our expert journalists in just a second, but first we have an expert caller here. Felix (ph) is calling from California.

Hey, Felix, good evening. Thanks for calling.

CALLER: Good evening, guys. How're you doing?

PRESS: Good, thanks. What's your comment?

CALLER: My comment is I was leaning towards Gore. Actually, about this debate, what made it for me is that Bush seemed a lot more sincere. He seemed to be connected with the people. Gore seemed like somebody would push him and he wouldn't move. He seemed like a robot, basically.

Also, another thing. The people have to realize one thing. I'm a moderate. I'm Hispanic. Usually, Hispanic voters lean towards Democrats. But the issue is that this presidency is going to be the most important presidency in 40 years. About three or four Justices are going to be probably nominated by this president. Bush seems to be right on everything. He is more human. He talks about the issues. And I think he will be a great president.

And honestly, you know what? CNN can say whatever poll, who wins, and MSNBC can say whoever wins, but the voters got to know one thing, and that's Bush speaks to the people...

PRESS: OK...

CALLER: ... and he will make the change.

PRESS: All right, Felix, thank you for the call.

Impressions do count a lot -- count for a lot.

CARLSON: Sure, they do. And that's -- I mean, I think that...

PRESS: I mean, you know...

CARLSON: It's interesting that the Bush campaign has essentially now is going to start spending money in California, which, of course, has been written off for a long time. Not clear if that's a bluff or not.

But Felix, you're going to see a lot of ads out there.

PRESS: Robert George, I want to come back to you now, if I can, Robert. I want to ask you a question about where I thought George W. Bush might have fallen flat, and in fact, ceded the point to Al Gore. And that's when Al Gore was challenging Bush's health care record in Texas. Let's listen to what Gore had to say, please.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: If you were the governor of a state that was dead last in health care for families, and all of a sudden you found yourself with the biggest surplus your state had ever had in its history, wouldn't you want to maybe use some of it climb from 50th to, say, 45 or 40 or something, or maybe better? I would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Wouldn't you have to say "Score Al Gore" on that one, Robert?

GEORGE: Yeah, actually -- yeah, I agree with you there, Bill, seriously, that...

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS: You don't have to!

GEORGE: No, unfortunately, I do. No, when I was taking notes as the debate was going on, I was thinking that Bush -- he kept on coming back with the statement that, "Well, we spent $4.7 billion for child health care," or something like that, and -- without specifically responding to the charge that Gore was making. And so I think Gore definitely made -- made some headway there.

I will say one thing -- one thing, though. When I was -- when I was watching the debate, I didn't necessarily get the impression that a lot of other people did, that -- that Gore was completely and totally flat. I know coming into it, he was -- he had three balls to juggle. He had to remember not to sigh. He had to remember not to look arrogant. And he had to also hold onto the issues. And he was -- therefore, he obviously was thinking -- thinking a lot.

However, I think a week ago we were all saying that Gore was sort of wiping the floor with Bush, and then the post-debate reaction was that Bush basically came out -- came out good. So I'm hesitant to say that this is a clear-cut win for Bush right now.

TAPPER: I think that's a -- could I just say one thing?

PRESS: Go ahead, Jake.

TAPPER: I think that's a great point by Robert. Last week, you know, Gore was shown to have won the debate, and then he spent the next week defending everything he said. And basically, it looked like Bush won, in the end. And I think it's possible that that happened tonight. Of course, that's going to rely on people in the media, you know, asking Bush about the facts he got wrong, about the things he glossed over in his Texas record. That's a lot to ask of the media, especially the Bush press corps, who hasn't exactly been the toughest.

GEORGE: And the other thing, also, too, is...

PRESS: Hey, gentlemen? Let me interrupt you just a second here because we got a comment from our -- one of viewers we want to share with everybody, too, and with you, maybe get your comments. The question is, "Why don't I trust either candidate? Why is this the same every four years? Where are the good guys?"

CARLSON: Cynical, cynical, cynical.

PRESS: Are people looking -- people looking for more, Jake? You want to pick that up?

TAPPER: Well, I mean, what do you want me to say? You know, I don't think -- I don't think anybody thinks that these are, like -- you know, that these two are the best that America has to offer, but it's almost irrelevant. I mean, you know, you can -- I think Bill Press would make an excellent presidential candidate.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Now, now, now, now! Jake, you're getting out of hand! You obviously have...

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: Wait, let me ask you a question, Jake, about Gore. Now, tonight Gore said -- and this is a long-standing policy, but it was striking to watch him articulate it tonight -- that he's against gay marriage. And he admitted, matter of record, that he supported the Defense of Marriage Act.

Now, why doesn't Gore, who's, you know, a long-time friend of the gay community -- why doesn't he come out, A, and support gay marriage? And B, is this going to hurt him? Is he going to take any flak? Are protesters going to show up and start bothering him over this, do you think?

TAPPER: I doubt it because, I mean, the alternative is George W. Bush. And you know, what Gore has not said -- I mean, and this was such a horrible debate for Al Gore in so many ways, but he could have just said, you know, "You say you're not in favor of special rights for gay people but you are in favor of equal rights. But in Texas, you supported a law to take adopted children that were adopted by gay and lesbian couples -- to take them out of the home of those families and put them in the home of straight couples. That's not -- you know, that's not special rights. That's not equal rights. That's unequal."

But Gore didn't do any of that. He didn't do it on guns. He didn't do it on the environment.

CARLSON: Why not? Why did he sound so moderate? Why did he move to the right? Have you talked to them about it? Was it a strategy?

TAPPER: Well, I think some of it was, like, especially on guns. Some of it is like, being afraid of losing Michigan. You want to appear moderate, and especially, you know, when it comes to guns, when it comes to gay marriage. But on things -- on just like, you know, allowing civil unions between gay people and lesbian people, you know, I think -- Gore was so afraid of looking negative.

And he'd been so brow-beaten -- you know, he was made to watch that "Saturday Night Live" skit, you know, like the guys in "Clockwork Orange" with the Beethoven playing in the background. And you know, the bottom line is he was -- he seemed like a hen-pecked husband whose wife had just spend the -- you know, the previous hour in the car saying, "You better be good at this party. If you're not good at this party, you're in trouble." And he came in, and he was very meek and mild. He let Bush get away with murder.

CARLSON: God, that is the most gruesome image I have heard this week.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Robert George, go ahead.

GEORGE: Yeah, that was a little bit much. I mean, I think that -- I mean, I think Bush -- Bush was on. This is a format -- this is a format that certainly -- that certainly -- certainly favored him. And I think he -- he went for the -- he went for the vision thing. The other thing is, too, at the end, the final -- the final comments, Gore decided to just focus on education, whereas Bush got out his entire vision statement. And I think that did him very well.

PRESS: I want to ask you this question. With all the emphasis after the debate last time, almost every article written since then has been about Gore sighing, right? To what extent do you think journalists are going to go now and check out all the facts that both of these gentlemen made tonight, especially Bush when he was talking about Texas?

GEORGE: Well...

CARLSON: Well, they haven't been doing it at all. I mean, that's one of the problems. That's why Bush is able to even talk about the CHIP program or talk about a "patients' bill of rights" that he actually vetoed is because the -- Bush -- you know, the -- he -- Bush has gotten away with a lot.

GEORGE: Well, I think, actually...

CARLSON: Well, let's ask -- actually, we have someone on the line...

GEORGE: ... Gore -- Gore...

CARLSON: ... here from Texas -- Cindy. And we're going to ask Cindy what she thinks.

PRESS: Hi, Cindy.

CALLER: Hi.

PRESS: It's Candy (ph). I'm sorry. Hi, Candy.

CALLER: Hi. I live in Austin, Texas, and I can tell you now that most of us women, as a matter of fact, will not vote for George Bush. When we see him on TV, all we see him is skirting issues that he will tell you one thing and do another. Our school systems are atrocious. Racial profiling is rampant in this city. The cost of living is outrageous.

PRESS: Robert George, the Texans rising up in rebellion against their governor?

GEORGE: My bet is that George W. Bush will probably hit around 70 percent or so in Texas.

(LAUGHTER)

GEORGE: You know, I -- that's just -- that's just a hunch. I don't want to go out on a limb here.

CARLSON: You're a terrific prognosticator, Robert George.

TAPPER: But I'd like to say something about the racial profiling issue. That's an excellent example. Bush is not -- Bush has no problem with racial profiling. He's done nothing about it in Texas. Why he...

GEORGE: Oh, Jake, that's a little bit much.

TAPPER: What has he done about -- what has he done about racial profiling in Texas? What law has he signed? What bill has he -- he's -- he's been governor since 1994. What has George W. Bush done about racial profiling in Texas?

CARLSON: Well, I think...

GEORGE: No...

CARLSON: I think, to be fair, I'm not sure anybody had heard of racial profiling until about nine months ago.

GEORGE: Yeah, and it's been...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: OK. And gentlemen, we got to leave it at that. Jake Tapper, Robert George, thank you both for joining us from New York, down in Winston-Salem. I'm sure we'll see you again...

GEORGE: Thanks, Bill. Thanks, Tucker.

PRESS: ... we spin around.

TAPPER: Thanks, guys.

CARLSON: Thanks.

And coming up, more of your spin on tonight's debate.

PRESS: And don't forget, Tucker, the Press for President boomlet started right here on this show.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS: When we come back, we're going to take more of your phone calls, and we'll check out what you're saying in CNN's interactive chat room.

THE SPIN ROOM on CNN's going to be right back with Bill Press, Tucker Carlson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CNN's SPIN ROOM.

PRESS: This is your chance to weigh in on Al Gore and George W. Bush's performance in tonight's debate.

Weighing in first, Tucker, is Ray (ph)...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... in New Jersey.

CARLSON: Hit us with it, Ray.

PRESS: Hello, Ray.

CALLER: How're you doing?

PRESS: Hey, good.

CALLER: I love CNN. I think it's the most even-keeled news station that's on cable.

PRESS: Ray, you're...

CARLSON: That's the spirit, Ray.

PRESS: You're a man of great intelligence...

CARLSON: I like...

(CROSSTALK)

CALLER: Tucker, you have my fondest thoughts and respect. Bill, you do, too, because at least you're honest enough to admit where you're coming from.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS: All right!

CALLER: All I want to say is this about...

PRESS: Everybody loves each other tonight! It's unbelievable!

CALLER: Bill, let's not...

CARLSON: Something in the punch.

CALLER: ... get into love now. You've had -- you've had me talking to the TV more than once. But I will say it's always been good dialogue.

What I wanted to talk about is -- I don't know -- I missed the point, or the whole world did, but there was two philosophies being laid on the table there tonight, as there has been in the past. And those philosophies are so different. Gore leans more towards what I'm going to call democratic socialism. That's a new one, right? And Bush is staying with the Constitution and allowing the people to make choices. And all he's trying to do is give them the means to do that. But before you interrupt me, Bill...

PRESS: OK...

CARLSON: I think that's a terrific... (CROSSTALK)

PRESS: We got your point, Ray. Thank you.

CARLSON: We have democratic socialism versus the Constitution.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS: I wouldn't put it that way.

CARLSON: It's almost a bumper sticker!

PRESS: But there certainly is a difference between where these two people -- where these two candidates are coming from in how they would use the surplus and where they would take the government, however you describe it.

CARLSON: And they're at their best, I think, when they're highlighting that difference.

PRESS: Their differences. I hope so.

CARLSON: And they're at the worst when they're saying things that aren't completely true. And I think we had an almost newsworthy example of that tonight when Al Gore talked about Rwanda. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: We did actually send troops into Rwanda to help with the humanitarian relief measures. My wife, Tipper, who's here, actually went on a military plane with General Shalikashvili on one of those flights.

But I think in retrospect we were too late getting in there. We could have saved more lives if we had acted earlier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Now, this is remarkable on three levels, very quickly...

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS: Could I say first I hope Tipper was on that plane!

CARLSON: I hope so, too! Now, Bill, I was actually living in the United States in the time. I don't remember any huge troop movements to Rwanda. "We could have saved more lives" -- millions of people, hundreds of thousands, at least of people were dead before we even did anything at all.

PRESS: The fact that the United States did nothing in Africa, in Rwanda particularly, is a disgrace, and Gore is right to say it.

But we got another... CARLSON: But he didn't say it!

PRESS: Absolutely.

Got another comment here from our SPIN ROOM chat room. "Bush keeps repeating what the party tells him to say. Does he have an original thought in his head?"

CARLSON: Actually, he doesn't repeat what the party wants him to say, much to the chagrin of the party. I mean, I think Bush went right from the very beginning and said, "Look, I'm not allied with the congressional Republicans." He went out of his way to kind of tweak them a little bit, and it irritated them.

PRESS: Well, I think he pretends to do that. I really think he's right lockstep in line with the Republican Party. And you get George Bush, you also get Trent Lott and Dan Burton and...

CARLSON: And you also get...

PRESS: ... and the whole crowd.

CARLSON: ... Veronica (ph) from Ontario, who has called and is on the line.

Veronica?

PRESS: California's coming through. Or is this Ontario...

CALLER: Hello.

PRESS: Hi.

CARLSON: Hello!

PRESS: Hi, Veronica.

CALLER: Hi. Yes. What I have...

PRESS: What have you got on your mind?

CALLER: Yes. What I have to say is I find -- I watch CNN all the time, and I find that the reporters seem to favor George Bush. They bring out all the good points that he makes right off the bat, and then they bring out the bad points that Al Gore made and try to contrast them. And they've pulled Al Gore down so much in his demeanor and his style that he doesn't even know what to do now. They're always onto him in that area, rather than just let him be who he is. They've brought him down below Bush now that Bush is able to triumph over him because nobody's pulling down Bush's style at all.

CARLSON: Veronica, we call this...

PRESS: Right.

CARLSON: ... the conservative media conspiracy here in the United States.

PRESS: But Veronica...

CALLER: I did like CNN. I watch CNN a lot.

PRESS: OK. Thanks.

CALLER: But I think I'm going to turn it off.

PRESS: Thanks, Veronica.

I've just got to say I think she's got a point. I think if you look at all this coverage when this thing is over, Bush has gotten a free ride from day one, for the most part, from the media, and they've been on Al Gore's butt from the beginning.

But just ahead, we're going to have more of your spin on presidential debate number two.

CARLSON: And with just one more debate to go, are Bush and Gore getting the job done? And what is the job?

THE SPIN ROOM continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I think anybody would have a hard time explaining that clearly in a way that makes sense to the average person.

BUSH: That's the kind of exaggeration I was just talking about.

(LAUGHTER)

GORE: Well, I wasn't the one having trouble explaining.

JIM LEHRER, PBS, MODERATOR: Gentlemen, it's time to go to the closing statements and...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: I think it's time to go to our closing statements. But you know, that's where Al Gore -- that's the Al Gore that I remember, when he just moved in there. And I thought there was a chill in the room. I wish we'd seen that Al Gore during the whole debate. And I wish we'd heard that question from Jim Lehrer about being a "serial exaggerator" in the beginning of the show instead of when there was two minutes left to go.

CARLSON: See, Al Gore is a lot better to read when he acts like that. If you're reading a transcript of the debate, you might say, "Well, you know, it's a pretty good point Gore's making." Watching him, he looks like the straight man to George W. Bush. Here's Bush kind of chortling and smiling, and there's Gore looking dour and unhappy and really kind of horrible. PRESS: But you know, in the end, I think the big question is, of course, what is this going to change? And I'd have to say, Tucker, I don't think it's going to change a hell of a lot. I mean, this -- this race is even-steven. Something's got to happen, and I think Bush -- I mean, Gore particularly needs to poke holes in what George Bush is saying about the issues and what he's done in Texas. He missed an opportunity to do that tonight.

CARLSON: It's getting a little late for that, Bill. We have less than a month left, and I think the evidence is that little events -- going on Oprah, the first debate -- tiny things that didn't use to make a lot of difference in politics really do now. I wouldn't be surprised if Bush got 2 points out of this.

PRESS: Well, I don't know whether Bush can go back on Oprah. My point is this debate tonight and the first debate I don't think were enough to move the polls, and so there's one more debate left, you know? Not that that's going to make any difference.

CARLSON: No, there's going to be a lot of pressure on both of them.

PRESS: Great fun...

CARLSON: We'll see...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: And that's it. We're out of spin in this edition of THE SPIN ROOM, believe it or not. I'm Bill Press.

CARLSON: And I'm Tucker Carlson. We'll be back next Tuesday night at midnight, 9:00 PM Pacific, following the third, and sadly, the final presidential debate.

PRESS: And you'll get a chance to weigh in by phone, email and CNN's interactive chat room on how the candidates did.

CARLSON: Until then, good night, and thanks for watching THE SPIN ROOM.

PRESS: Good night, everybody.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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