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Special Event

Campaign 2000: Candidates Face Off in Third and Final Debate

Aired October 17, 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: It was supposed to be their night. Al Gore and George W. Bush commanding the spotlight for a final debate just three nerve-racking week before Election Day. But this time, they go before a nation distracted by crisis and tragedy, at home and abroad.

In the Middle East, Palestinians and Israelis, fighting more than talking while American sailors come under attack in Yemen, and Missouri, host state for tonight's debate, mourns the loss of its governor and Democratic Senate candidate Mel Carnahan.

Tonight, the presidential candidates confront these developments and the voters in a town meeting-style debate at Washington University in St. Louis. And later, we'll go to another key battleground, Michigan, for a CNN and "Time" town meeting,

Now from the CNN Election Desk here are Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us. Tonight's presidential debate will allow the audience to break from the mold of silent observers and become part of the action. This time, George W. Bush and Al Gore will face questions from voters inside the hall as well as from the moderator.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: This face-off comes just 21 days before the election, and the race remains a dead heat. The newest CNN-"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll finds Bush leading Gore 47 to 44, but this lead remains within the margin of error.

WOODRUFF: Our Jeff Greenfield at the debate site in St. Louis tonight. Jeff, this really is the last chance for these candidates to reach an audience in the tens of millions?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is and even though the death of Governor Mel Carnahan last night in the plane crash has put this debate hall into a much more somber mood than others, there's also no question that both campaigns realize this is the last kind of communication of this sort they're going to have before the election and they also know they are in a state that has gone with the winner in every campaign except 1956, in this century, where the latest poll has George Bush up one point, which is to say a statistical dead heat.

And in a campaign which at least a dozen states are still up for grabs, something this late in an election that's very, very unusual. So while the death of Governor Carnahan is here, it's a presence, these candidates are going to go full tilt towards getting what they want to say to the undecided voters tonight.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jeff Greenfield. We'll be back to you later -- Bernie.

SHAW: And as Jeff alluded, the people of Missouri, for them, last night's plane crash near St. Louis dampened the enthusiasm surrounding tonight's town meeting. That crash killed Missouri's governor Mel Carnahan; his son, who was the pilot; and a top campaign aide. CNN's Jonathan Karl has more on how candidates and debate organizers handled news of the crash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The unexpected death of Missouri's popular governor had an immediate impact on tonight's debate, prompting the abrupt cancellation of post-debate rallies by both candidates and words of consolation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, I think it's going to cast a little bit of a pall on the discussions. It's hard to be -- It's just hard to be real exuberant and real feisty when there's a serious tragedy that's taken place in the state in which you're having debate in front of a hundred and some odd folks from Missouri.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Vice president Gore offered his public statement after meeting privately with Carnahan's campaign staff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tipper and I knew Mel and Randy extremely well, and Mel was a fantastic individual, a great public servant with a compelling vision for the future of this state and our country. It is a tremendous loss, and our hearts grieve with the people of this state and with his family, especially and again with the Sifford family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Mel Carnahan was a popular governor, a fixture of Missouri politics for more than a generation, and a candidate for Senate locked in one of this year's most hotly-contested Congressional campaigns.

His death so shocking to the people of Missouri that debate organizers briefly considered postponing tonight's face off. The debate will go on, but will begin with a brief tribute to Governor Carnahan.

The audience is made up of 144 voters chosen from the St. Louis metropolitan area, and therefore all Governor Carnahan's constituents. Both candidates are taking a political breather in Missouri, pulling all political ads in the state for 48 hours out of respect for Carnahan's death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Now's the time for the good people of this state to mourn the loss of a leader, and it's appropriate that we diminish the political activity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: In addition to his post-debate rally, Vice President Gore called off a planned rally tomorrow in Kansas City, instead taking his campaign to Iowa. Despite the clear pall cast over the hall tonight, both sides expect the impact on the debate to be minimal as the candidates speak not so much to the Missourians in the audience, but to the millions of Americans watching on television.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, St. Louis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And more now from St. Louis, and two reporters who keep track of George W. Bush and Al Gore on a daily basis: CNN's Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, with the Bush camp; John Karl with the Gore campaign.

Candy, let's start with you. What are the expectations of the Bush people?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm not sure what the expectations are, but I can tell you that they expect him to do well. They believe that he showed in the first two debates that he can stand on the same stage, hold his own, excel, all that kind of thing.

If there are two things that George Bush would like to get an opportunity to stress tonight, and they are aimed right at the undecided voters, it is first bipartisanship. He would like to have a couple of questions where he can show how he got along in Texas reaching across the aisle. And the other is he wants to talk about the economy, which is what Al Gore would like to talk about.

Al Gore -- George Bush, rather, would like to talk about the fact Al Gore is what he calls a big government guy, someone who will triple the spending -- government spending that Bill Clinton did. This is something that they think has a lot of resonance in the swing voters and something George Bush would very much like to talk about tonight.

WOODRUFF: And John Karl, joining us, too. If that is what Governor Bush says, is Vice President Gore ready?

KARL: Well, Vice President Gore goes into this debate planning to turn it up a notch, outlining his differences with George W. Bush far more aggressively and forcefully than he did in the last debate. Gore's goal here is to move the economy to center stage, trying to make the case, essentially, that prosperity itself is on the ballot in this election, Gore's aides expect the vice president to offer a variation of Ronald Reagan's famous query saying essentially or asking essentially, are you better off today than you were eight years ago?

Gore will aggressively take a look at Governor Bush's record, criticizing record in Texas and his policy proposals, especially that $1.3 trillion tax cut. The point of this, the unifying theme that Gore hopes to address not only tonight but in the final weeks of the campaign is that Bush's proposals would put prosperity at risk. That he would bring us back to an era of economic recession and budget deficit.

Now Gore's advisers are saying they are not looking for knockout punch here tonight, but they are keenly aware that time is running out; that the vice president must make the case, must get the momentum, for these last three weeks, the final push of the campaign to the election, now, of course, just three weeks from today.

WOODRUFF: All right, John Karl, Candy Crowley and we'll be talking to you all right after the debate. Thanks.

SHAW: And more of our debate preview just ahead, including Wolf Blitzer's town meeting with undecided voters.

And we'll hear from Mary Matalin and Mike McCurry.

But next, we're going to turn to the news of this day.

The emergency Middle East summit; whether the agreements by the leaders are being implemented by the followers.

And the USS Cole, the investigation yields some clues in Yemen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: It's been a busy news day outside of campaign 2000. For the other top stories, let's go to CNN's Joie Chen -- Joie.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Judy, Israeli and Palestinian leaders left an emergency summit today urging an end to the bloody conflict in the Middle East. But word of an agreement led to a resurgence of violence. Two more Palestinians were killed, casting doubt on whether a truce will take hold.

CNN senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers reports from the Egyptian resort that played host to the summit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The Middle East summit ended with another class photo, perhaps the last for President Clinton. There were promises to end the violence, but no signed document. And with violence continuing, the summit seemed at best a dubious success, a fact that did not escape Mr. Clinton. WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we leave here today we will have to work hard to consolidate what we have agreed.

RODGERS: Egypt's President Mubarak was disappointed, saying what we achieved may not meet our people's expectations.

Yasser Arafat left quickly, the Palestinian said to be disappointed they had to settle for a watered down version of their demand for an international commission to investigate who was responsible for the violence.

Publicly, Arafat seemed to reserve judgment on the summit.

YASSER ARAFAT, PRES., PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (through translator): The most important thing during yesterday and today is the implementation and we expect an accurate and honest implementation to what has been agreed upon.

RODGERS: By contrast, Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Israel achieved its goals but he said, he will wait 48 hours before ordering his troops pulled back from Palestinian controlled areas and he made an impassioned plea for a revival of the a peace process.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We won't be to forgive ourselves if we will be deteriorated into an infinite series of violent clashes and without trying our best.

RODGERS: But Barak said if clashes continue, Israel will know what to do, adding the coming days will tell whether he has a peace partner. They will also tell how much attention Palestinian's pay to Arafat's call for an end to the hostilities. Perhaps the most eloquent comment on the expectations coming from the summit came from Jordan's King Abdullah.

KING ABDULLAH, JORDAN: We'll keep our fingers crossed.

RODGERS (on camera): Indeed, much of the world is keeping its fingers crossed, because unless the violence abates, the region could become even more inflamed with repercussions that could affect the political stability of moderate Arab states, as well as world oil prices. And few would be left untouched by that.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN: But persuading those caught up in the violence to end it will be a battle in itself. After nearly three weeks of bloodshed, many say they won't go along with any kind of agreement.

From Bethlehem, here is CNN's Ben Wedeman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The people of Bethlehem turned out to bury Muayyed Jawaraish, a schoolboy killed in clashes Monday. The anti-Israeli banners courtesy of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both hard-line opponents of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and both gaining strength since the fighting began.

No talk of peace here, only vengeance. The mourners called upon Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to destroy Tel Aviv. Muayyed died in gunfire, and he was buried to the sound of more of it, his death more fuel for the fire the leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh tried to put out.

And after the funeral, another confrontation, a hail of rocks thrown at Israeli positions. The soldiers respond with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.

(on camera): Whatever the leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh came up with, it hasn't made any difference here. The clashes continue, and the fighting goes on.

(voice-over): More wounded, more anger, more resentment.

Here, the momentum of violence appears stronger than the persuasive powers of the best-intentioned diplomats.

"We don't recognize any agreements," says Yusif. "We will continue our uprising until we liberate our land."

Here, there is no point asking about the peace process. Here, the talk is only of carrying on a revolt with no end in sight.

"We know what is going on," says this man. "We all knew that the Sharm el-Sheikh summit was a conspiracy, a plot to end our uprising."

Palestinian police watched the clash from a distance but did nothing to stop it. Here, support for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat seems to be fading.

"He agreed," says Abu Jihad, "but the Palestinian streets didn't agree. Ask anyone."

WEDEMAN: No one here, at least, disagrees with that.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Bethlehem, on the West Bank.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN: Now on the bombing of the USS Cole, CNN has learned that the Defense Department will hire an independent investigator to look into security questions raised by the attack.

Also, the Pentagon has moved three amphibious assault ships to the port of Aden to act as a secure barracks for the hundreds of U.S. personnel now working on the case.

Meanwhile, officials are reporting what could be a breakthrough in the investigation.

CNN's Matthew Chance is in Aden. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned from two federal law enforcement sources in the United States, the authorities in Yemen have discovered what they describe as bomb-making materials in an apartment close to where the attack on the USS Cole took place. A joint U.S. and Yemeni inquiry is now under way, with forensic teams from the United States gathering physical evidence while the Yemeni authorities round up suspects.

BARBARA BODINE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO YEMEN: Throughout this investigation, we're going to be making significant progress day to day. And certainly from yesterday to today, it has been a quantum leap.

CHANCE: On the streets of Aden, tight security is in place while Yemeni officials say large numbers of people are being detained and questioned. The officials say suspected members of known Islamic militant groups are among those being held.

For the U.S. and Yemen, this is a highly sensitive period. And at this stage, neither government is confirming details of exactly who is in custody.

Meanwhile, U.S. Navy officials say divers have recovered the bodies of six more U.S. personnel from the wreckage of the Cole and are working in what they describe as dangerous conditions to find six more still missing after the blast.

(on camera): U.S. officials are treating the investigation into the apparent attack on the USS Cole with the utmost confidentiality, and even though there are still no final conclusions, they say that both they and the Yemeni authorities are determined to bring those responsible to justice.

Matthew Chance, CNN, at the port of Aden, in Yemen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN: Four more injured crew members from the USS Cole arrived at their home port in Norfolk, Virginia today. About 500 people, including some of the wounded sailors who got home just on Sunday, greeted the latest to return. They were taken to a naval hospital for evaluation there. A memorial service for the 17 sailors killed in the explosion will be held in Norfolk tomorrow.

CNN's live coverage will begin at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Now let's go back to Bernard Shaw for more of CNN's coverage on the third presidential debate -- Bernie.

SHAW: Joie, thank you very much.

Our debate special continues next, with two voices of the younger generation. We're going to hear from George W. Bush's nephew, George Prescott Bush, and from Al Gore's daughter Karenna. And later, we'll talk to undecided Michigan voters about the choice they're facing.

Join in the real-time debate when it starts by going to CNN.com and clicking on "Spin Room."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: At Washington University, St.Louis this specially converted debate set inside the field house.

One man who's had a high-profile role in this year's presidential campaign, George Prescott Bush, son of Florida governor Jeb Bush and nephew to Republican hopeful George W. Bush, joins us from St. Louis.

A question: you've traveled the country quite a bit since the convention in Philadelphia and even before, I know, but in your judgment, based on travels, are young people turned off or on by this election campaign?

GEORGE P. BUSH, NEPHEW, GEORGE. W. BUSH: I think they're turned on for the most part. I think when it's all said and done, election year 2000 is going to be known as a year in which younger people voted at an all-time record high. I think it's important that both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat, reach out to this very important voter demographic group. So far from what I've noticed the grassroots level, younger Americans are not only contributing more time to the communities, but also I anticipate they will vote more than they have in previous election cycles.

SHAW: One man who's had a high profile role in this year's presidential campaign, George Prescott Bush, son of Florida Governor Jeb Bush and nephew to Republican hopeful George W. Bush, joins us from St. Louis.

A question: You've travelled the country quite a bit since the convention in Philadelphia and even before I know, but in your judgment, based on your travels, are young people turned off or on by this election campaign?

BUSH: I think they're turned on for the most part. I think when it's all said and done, election year 2000 is going to be known as a year in which younger people voted at an all-time record high. I think it's important that both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat, reach out to this very important voter demographic group.

So far from what I've noticed at the grassroots level, younger Americans are not only contributing more time to their communities, but also I anticipate they will vote more than they have in previous election cycles.

SHAW: Dispassionately now, how do you grade your uncle and Vice President Gore on their ability to discuss issues that young people care about?

BUSH: Well, so far I think they've been -- both candidates have been able to articulate a message that can target both of these demographic groups, as it relates to reform in education, making college more affordable, reforming very important entitlement programs such as Social Security. But in a passionate way, in a biased way, of course, I would have to favor my uncle's vision because he is advocating a position of reform.

Younger Americans, in an age where kids are trading stocks over the Internet, feel that they have a sense of entitlement, they should be empowered and that government should entrust them as individuals rather than trusting bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

SHAW: Do you think young voters understand the key differences between these two presidential candidates?

BUSH: I think they understand some of the general differences for the most part. I think you guys have done a great job in presenting both sides of the issues.

SHAW: Thank you.

BUSH: And also I think, as we look to the Internet, one interesting statistic is that more younger Americans get their news not from TV or from newspapers but from the Internet. And I think that a lot of Internet web sites have actually been able to reach out to younger Americans in ways that never have been to have been done before.

SHAW: I'm going to hit you at home with this last question. Is your father, Jeb Bush, governor of Florida, sweating whether or not he's going to be able to deliver Florida on election night?

BUSH: Yes. The rest of the family have decided that we're going to disown my father from the family if we do lose Florida. That's a joke, by the way.

SHAW: And I'm laughing.

OK. Thank you. George Prescott Bush, thanks for joining us.

BUSH: No problem.

SHAW: Judy

WOODRUFF: And now moving from the governor's nephew to the vice president's daughter. Karenna Gore Schiff has taken her father's message across the country as well. Our Jeff Greenfield caught up with her in St. Louis -- Jeff.

GREENFIELD: Judy, Karenna Gore Schiff is 27 years-old. And she's not only her father's daughter, she's also a key campaign adviser to the Gore campaign. So her expertise is not just about youth, but about campaign policy in general.

I did however begin the interview by asking her how when a campaign is pitched so heavily towards older voters: prescription drugs, health care, Social Security reform, how either candidate could possibly connecting with the youth vote.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARENNA GORE SCHIFF, DAUGHTER OF AL GORE: Well, I think that my dad's agenda very much resonates and appeals to young people. And affording college is a big issue now. You know, there are a lot of people who are saddled with student loans and -- or even can't believe they'll be able to get a chance to go to college. My dad has a college opportunity tax cut which will help those people.

Also, the environment, that's a huge issue in this campaign. And I think that for young people who want the -- our country and our earth to be green and clean for them and their children, they have a very clear choice. And my dad has a passion for the environment and wants to protect it.

There are a lot of other issues that I think really resonate with young people. And you know, you mentioned the Peace Corps, I think the AmeriCorps program has been very successful in this administration. And my dad would build on that. So, I think that there's a lot that speaks to young people. And certainly the decisions of the next president will impact all of our lives.

GREENFIELD: Let me turn on the fact that you are not only someone who talks to young people, but you are a significant voice in this campaign. It's not all that frequent that an offspring of a candidate is also an adviser.

So when do you look at these polls and say that people think your dad is more knowledgeable than Governor Bush, more experienced, but less trustworthy and more likable, that has to hit you not just as an adviser, but you're his daughter. How do you deal with that?

SCHIFF: You know what, honestly, I have learned -- and I think it was kind of a blessing in disguise, and as Churchill would say, and my dad would paraphrase, damn good disguise. But it was a blessing that I went through something in the '80s when my mom was trying to get labels on record albums that had very violent lyrics. And she was brutally caricatured and people distorted who she was. And that was -- at the time, I can say that was personally painful.

But I learned a lesson, and that was that you know, sometimes when someone is standing up for what they believe in, the forces on the other side will really go to great lengths to sort of distort and smear their character. And I really feel that that's what's happening here. And I really feel that -- I mean, when I see the caricature of my dad that is painted by his opponent, it is nothing like the honest, decent, straight-forward, loving man that I know, who has always been there for our family. So I keep that in mind. I know it's important.

And I also know that what he's doing, he's doing on behalf of people who need a champion and I'm very proud of that.

GREENFIELD: OK, so tonight's debate -- one of the things that happens at any debate is that you get 100 kibitzers, you get 100 people telling you this is what you ought to do. Especially because, by most accounts, including many Democrats the second debate was not your dad's finest performance. You are a key adviser to him. What advice have you given him tonight?

SCHIFF: Well, to be yourself, to talk to the people out there the way that he's talked to our family and to me. He's inspired me so much to get involved in this campaign, to really go out and talk about the issues. But also, to feel hopeful about our country's future. Because he really does have a vision. He talks about how the things we need to do in this country in order to clean up the environment are also the things that will make it more efficient and create more jobs and make sure that life styles are more comfortable for most Americans.

And I think that that is so important -- that passion and that vision. And I hope that comes through tonight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: Now Judy, one more note on youth vote. It was almost exactly 40 years ago that John Kennedy, campaigning at the University of Michigan, proposed the idea of the Peace Corps, an idea that galvanized tens of thousands of Americans. This campaign, so pitched to the middle class, middle aged and elderly voters on both sides, has been so lacking in that idea that I think George P. Bush is being very optimistic when he thinks that the youth turnout will be better than the anemic barely one third it was four years ago.

WOODRUFF: Well, we will certainly know about three weeks from now or maybe a few days after that when we add up those age numbers. Jeff Greenfield, interesting interviews both.

After the break, we will join Wolf Blitzer in the battleground state of Michigan for some thoughts from undecided voters.

And this reminder: you can express your opinion on the debate at cnn.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: This is where it will happen tonight, in about 30 minutes, the field house on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

The popular vote is one thing, but the really important total is electoral votes. We've checked the polls and right now George W. Bush has the lead in 23 states, giving him a total of 205 electoral votes. His strength lies in the South and the Rocky Mountain states.

Gore has actually lost some ground in the past week. Still, he leads in the big prize states of California and New York for a total of 175 electoral votes. One change, Minnesota. Minnesota has moved into the toss-up column. Those toss-up states with 158 electoral votes hold the key to this campaign 2000 election, of course. Two important states in that group, Pennsylvania and Florida.

WOODRUFF: Michigan and its 18 electoral votes are also in the undecided column, and that is where we find CNN's Wolf Blitzer. He is just outside Detroit. He's going to be talking to voters who have yet to decide for sure who they will vote for for president -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, once again with the help of the Gallup Polling organization, we've found some persuadable voters undecided, some leaning perhaps one way or the other, but none have completely made up their minds whether they're going to vote for Al Gore or George W. Bush or anyone else. This is a very important state here, Michigan. In fact, as far as a presidential race is concerned, it doesn't get any closer than it is right here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): It's been 40 years since Michigan has seen a presidential race this tight. In 1960, John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by just 67,000 votes or 2 percent of the state-wide vote. In Michigan today, it's just as close.

BILL BALLENGER, EDITOR, "INSIDE MICHIGAN POLITICS": There are three polls that came out over the weekend: one had George bush up by one, another had Al Gore up by three, but George Bush closing fast from a similar poll taken a month ago and a third had them two tenths of one percent apart, so this is really up for grabs.

BLITZER: Gore's base will be the urban neighborhoods of Detroit, but equally important will be the state's sizable labor constituency.

BALLENGER: Michigan is the highest percentage union member state in the country, so any Democrat running has got to have that kind of effort behind him.

BLITZER: It accounted for 40 percent of the vote four years ago, and was a major reason why Bill Clinton won Michigan's 18 electoral votes in '92 and '96.

BALLENGER: Many of these people are energized by fear of the Republicans, their candidate George W. Bush, no matter how centrist he tries to present himself as being, and of course the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: In the Gore-Lieberman administration, we are going to be pro-union.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALLENGER: Many people who are working hard for Al Gore are working because he is certainly preferable to what they see coming from the Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: And with your help, we're going to win Michigan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: For Bush, the key is courting the traditional Republican voters in northern and western Michigan, some of whom have been slow to embrace him.

ED SARPOULOS, POLLSTER, "DETROIT FREE PRESS": They weren't convinced that he was one of them. In this last debate, the last debate and a half, he started to talk like a conservative. Talking conservative, what he was going to do with the Supreme Court justices through innuendo. His talk about the military and how bad the military is. He's back to traditional Republican issues.

BLITZER: So that leaves a handful of swing voters that both candidates are targeting in these final weeks, and many of those voters happen to be in the Detroit suburb of Macomb County, made famous in the 80's by the so called Reagan Democrats, blue-collar traditional Democrats who crossed over to the Republican party largely because of social and cultural issues.

SARPOULOS: So those are where the swing voters are. You have Democratic swing and Republican swing and since that's the largest plurality of swing voters in one area, that's where you go.

BLITZER: And Macomb County is also where John McCain showed strongly in his big win last spring over George W. Bush in the state's open Republican primary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And right now, we're in a restored lovely one-room schoolhouse in Macomb County in Warren, Michigan and we've gathered these folks here to ask them, what are you going to be looking for in this debate tonight?

Put that microphone right up to you mouth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The candidates to explain their energy policies.

BLITZER: Energy policies?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BLITZER: Why energy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, because it affects a lot of things. It affects the environment. It affects the economy, affects senior citizens when heating season comes around.

BLITZER: All right, energy. What about you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd like the candidates to explain how they're going to reduce taxes for single parents.

BLITZER: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm interested in integrity in office.

BLITZER: Why is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the president represents everybody, and I think he should represent us well.

BLITZER: Is that a reaction to what happened with Bill Clinton over the past few years?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely is.

BLITZER: You're going to be looking for that. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm really interested in hearing more on their educational views and policies and some strategic plans on how they're going to help the states.

BLITZER: You have you kids in school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My concern is with foreign policy. In lieu of what happened last week in the Middle East, I would really like to hear where both candidates stand on the issues.

BLITZER: All right, go to the back row. What are you going to be looking for tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've traditionally voted Republican, but I'm also pro-choice, so I'm having a hard time with Bush in what he's saying as far as abortion.

BLITZER: All right. What about you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm also looking for foreign policy. It's always been a hot spot and I'm just interested to see what where they stand and what kind action they're planning on taking.

BLITZER: Any specific hot spots around the world?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mid-East.

BLITZER: Middle East, because of what's happening right now or is that a general interest of yours?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: General interest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm looking for professional and personal integrity as well as Second Amendment rights and education.

BLITZER: Second Amendment, of course, being guns?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.

BLITZER: And which position do you favor?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that people should be allowed to protect themselves.

BLITZER: You support what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I support Bush's position on that.

BLITZER: And is that going to be the most important issue?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's not. The personal integrity is the most important thing. Like the gentleman in the front, I was affected by our last administration, and I feel like the people of America deserve to have a president who they can look up to.

BLITZER: So you're one of those people affected by what they call Clinton fatigue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little bit, yes.

BLITZER: Are you going to punish Al Gore as a result of that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. but I -- you know, you have to take it all into consideration.

BLITZER: What about you, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm interested in the differences between the two candidates regarding tax cuts. There seems to be a big difference between how they want to spread out the tax cuts between the middle class and the upper class.

BLITZER: And you want tax cuts for the middle class?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tax cuts for the middle class.

BLITZER: I just guessed that. How about you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Interested in the foreign trade criteria, I have a husband that is a merchant seaman and brother that's in the steel industry, I'm very interested and no mention of that being done on either of the previous town meetings.

BLITZER: So the NAFTA issue, North American Free Trade?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very much so. That will definitely affect my family personally because of my husband being a sailor on the Great Lakes.

BLITZER: But on that issue, Gore and Bush agree whereas Nader and Buchanan disagree with that? So you could be leaning towards?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's why I'm undecided.

BLITZER: All right. What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm interested in education.

BLITZER: Because?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because of many things. But for one I am from Michigan and we have Detroit which is somewhat inner city, and I just want to know what Gore and Bush -- their plans to do with inner city kids. How they're going to go about with the smaller classroom sizes and things like that.

BLITZER: Is the voucher issue important for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

BLITZER: Which way?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm kind of undecided right now.

BLITZER: But you are listening for that one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uh-huh.

BLITZER: What about you, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm interested in health care coverage, especially for seniors and low-income persons. I'm a legal aide attorney that works with those populations here in Michigan, including the Macomb County area and other counties, So I'm interested in increasing health care coverage.

BLITZER: So the prescription drug benefit plan that both of these presidential candidates put forward, you're watching that closely?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And do you know the differences between the two of them on that specific issue?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd like to hear a little bit more about that. I'm also interested how they're going to try to encourage bipartisan support for increases in health care coverage.

BLITZER: All right, what about you, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'm particularly interested in the foreign policy as it pertains to the oil crisis that we're currently experiencing.

BLITZER: Is that because you're afraid that the price of gasoline will go up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and the Detroit economy is highly based on what happens with the oil prices.

BLITZER: Because of the auto industry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BLITZER: What about you, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm interested in what both candidates specifically are going to do about the infrastructure of these urban schools. They're large, they often need extensive renovations and this is very costly, and I see where they're going to provide funds, but I want to know specifically what they're going to do. And I'm really against George Bush's privatization.

BLITZER: All right, a wide range of issues, but all important issues and presumably you'll hearing a lot more about that over the course of the next 90 minutes.

And, Bernie, after the debate, we're going to come back, get the reaction, see if these folks here in Warren, Michigan, some of whom may have made up their mind in the course of this debate, others will probably want to get a little more information. But remember, these are the people. These are the undecided, persuadable voters both of these candidates are focusing their attention on tonight. We're going to get their reaction immediately after this debate.

Back to you, Bernie.

SHAW: Thanks, Wolf, we'll be listening very, very closely to them.

Call it the narrowing of the gender gap.

Coming up next, we're going to examine the gains made by George W. Bush among women voters.

And to compare both Bush and Gore on the issues, head to CNN.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: This is the scene at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where in about 17 minutes from now, presidential debate No. 3 gets under way.

This year's presidential race is shaping up to be one of the closest in years. But there are some big differences between the candidates when the contest is broken down by gender.

Our CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll shows a majority of men favor George W. Bush, while Al Gore has an 8 percentage point advantage among women. Gore's fortunes have, to a large degree, risen and fallen with his support among women. As the race has tightened, Gore's support among women has slipped.

Joining us to discuss the women's vote, Farai Chideya, editor of popandpolitics.com; and Betsy Hart, a columnist with Scripps Howard.

Thank you both for being with us.

BETSY HART, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE: You bet.

WOODRUFF: Betsy Hart, what is it that women are looking for in a president that men perhaps are not looking for? What is different in the outlooks here?

HART: Well, I think you have to be careful about creating this idea that women are a monolith. And, in fact, if you break down the polling data further, what you see is that married women are far more supportive of George Bush than are their single sisters. In fact, it's probably about even, and that's the way it's broken out in recent elections, as well. There's actually a huge marriage gap.

You also have to remember that the Bush -- or the gap that Al Gore has with men is far greater than the gap that Bush has with women. But I have a feeling that what is happening is that women are -- at least those who are more liberal might be looking for somebody to take care of them. They're looking down at the safety net. They want to know that they're going to be taken care of. They want, in an age of broken marriages, of husbands leaving, of women being on their own, I think they're more concerned about whether or not they can take care of themselves.

And we've seen Al Gore pander to them and say big government is the answer. George Bush is saying, no, actually you can help yourself. I can empower you to help yourself. You can keep more of your own money and so forth. And I think that's beginning to resonate, and that's why we're seeing this gap narrow.

WOODRUFF: Farai Chideya is that how you see it? Is that what women are looking for, and is that what Gore's been saying to these people, to these women?

FARAI CHIDEYA, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST: I think that's a very cynical interpretation when you look at the fact that the Bush tax plan favors the wealthy. You could also break that down and say that these married women tend to be are part of higher-income families who are going to be part of the Bush gravy train.

I would tend to break down the gender gap and say the women who support Gore are also tending to be women of color. And when you break down the gender gap further, you find that it's actually also a race gap, where women of color tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic consistently and that white women are somewhat on the fence between Bush and Gore.

I think it's also interesting to start out with the premise that gender only really affects women. We consistently talk about the gender gap as a women's issue, when in fact, as Betsy pointed out, that men actually have a wider gender gap in this election favoring Bush. So it's also...

WOODRUFF: Farai, we're having some difficulties with your microphone in the studio. We're going to try to get that fixed, and hopefully it'll be fixed when we come back to you.

Betsy Hart, back to you. What is it about George W. Bush, do you believe, that has caused more women to move in his direction in the last week or two?

HART: Well, I think there's been a cynical interpretation of what it means to be a conservative. Conservatives don't care about the poor -- that's wrong. But Bush is addressing that and saying, of course we care about the poor. But Al Gore's answer is only the government can care about the poor. George Bush is saying, no, we all have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to work with our religious institutions, we have a responsibility to let people keep more of their own money so they can help the people in their community. I think that's beginning to appeal to people.

And to suggest that women, lower-income women, let's say, or single women, don't want a tax decrease, a tax cut, because somebody else somewhere might get a bigger tax cut is simply ridiculous. I think one of the big ways George Bush could actually sell his tax cut to women is to say, correctly, tax cuts equal time. More money in your pocket is literally buying time. It might be the difference between working full time and part time and having time with kids. That, it seems to me, would be a huge way to reach out to women on that particular issue.

Now, Farai, if you don't want a tax cut, that's fine. I'll take yours.

WOODRUFF: Well, I understand Farai's microphone, we're still having difficulties. So Betsy, I'm going to come back to you. You mentioned earlier that what we're really looking at here is a male gender gap...

HART: That's right.

WOODRUFF: ... that Bush is doing much better with men than Gore is with women. Should we be focusing on men? Should we be focusing on why Gore should be trying to go after more male voters?

HART: Well, and you can believe he is, which is one reason, for instance, he's not talked about, let's say, gun control. He wants to keep that issue quiet, because he knows that's very offensive to men.

The reason that the women's vote is so important is because we've seen it shift over the years. It was very pro-Reagan in '80 and '84, it was very pro-Clinton in '96. Earlier this year, it was pro-Bush. And so it's very -- it's considered malleable, something that can be grabbed. If the male disparity were not so great, the women's disparity would not be seen as important as it is. But Democrats cannot win without that women's vote, and that's what they're afraid of.

WOODRUFF: Farai, we understand that your mike is back, and I'm going to -- we're going to -- we're almost out of time, but I want to give you the last word here. What is it that Al Gore needs to say tonight to reach out to the women who may have slipped away from him in the last couple of weeks?

CHIDEYA: Well, I think for the vice president needs to stick to very, very obvious points. In the second debate, for example, on the issue of gun control, it became very muddy. He could have pointed out, for example, that there was a real groundswell of female support against the gun violence in America's streets, the Million Mom March. He did not point out something so simple as female support for stemming gun violence. I think he needs to return to simple themes and point out clear facts and the differences between his positions and the governor's positions.

WOODRUFF: All right, Farai Chideya, Betsy Hart, thank you both for joining us. And again, our apologies about Farai's microphone. Thanks a lot -- Bernie.

SHAW: And when we come back, a view from the left and the right.

Former Clinton Press Secretary Mike McCurry and CNN "CROSSFIRE" host Mary Matalin will join us with pre-debate spin.

And we want to hear from you. To pick the winner on each issue during tonight's debate, please log on to CNN.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Two political pros join us now to add their perspective before tonight's final showdown. Former Clinton Press Secretary Mike McCurry is in St. Louis, and, of course, "CROSSFIRE" co-host Mary Matalin, one-time strategist for President Bush, is in Washington.

Mike, first to you. Any pitfalls in this format?

MIKE MCCURRY, FORMER CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, it's a very difficult format. I think what Vice President Gore needs to do, and clearly it's on him tonight, he's got to use the substance of his positions to really connect with these voters that are here in the audience in front of him.

You know, the way in which you make an argument sometimes about Social Security or education reform or the economy is not necessarily the way you win a debate in front of a bunch of pundits and politicians. This is a hard format, but if the vice president can connect with these people here tonight and make a persuasive case, this could be a very big night for him.

SHAW: Mary, former pitfalls?

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST, CNN "CROSSFIRE": Well, I agree with what Mike said. And another pitfall is you can't disremember the larger audience, obviously. If you get too connected to the hall, there's a chance you lose the larger audience, and that's who these guys are both going for tonight, the sliver, the handful of voters left. And Gore has to -- Gore really, I'll say this again, the onus is on him. He's been Goldilocks. This debate's too hot, this debate's too cold. Tonight he has to be just right. And that's a difficult format, and it's a difficult job.

SHAW: Mary, if mistakes are made tonight, and also for you, Mike, if mistakes are made tonight on this stage, will there be enough time to overcome them between now and Election Day?

MATALIN: Bernie, these debates have not had defining moments so much as they have been in the whole defining. It would have to be some monumental mistake, which neither of these candidates really -- I mean, if they haven't done that yet, that's unlikely. I think the debates will be taken as both hope they would be as a whole.

SHAW: Mike.

MCCURRY: Bernie, remember this. There are three weeks left in this campaign. That's an eternity in national politics. It will be interesting to see if the candidates make available to them some of the formats, on the Internet and elsewhere, where they can continue their dialogue.

There's a debate on the Internet called Web, White and Blue, carried on CNN.com/allpolitics. And if the candidates continue this debate over the next several days and the next three weeks, yes, they can correct mistakes. They can also keep some of the back and forth going.

SHAW: And as the two of you were speaking, Tipper Gore has come in with the Gore family. And preceding her was the first lady of Texas, Laura Bush and the Bush family. They've seated themselves. The moderator, Jim Lehrer, has talked to the audience, and they're about to get under way.

One quicky to each of you: What should be each man's prime concern tonight -- Mike.

MCCURRY: Vice President Gore really needs to, in a very human way, demonstrate that he cares about the people in the room, that he can persuade them that his ideas on education, health care, Social Security are better than Governor Bush's. And he really has to hold Governor Bush's feet to the fire on the inadequacy of that program.

SHAW: Mary Matalin?

MATALIN: Bush has to begin closing the deal, closing the sale. And he will do that where -- by just going back to where he started, bipartisan reform solutions for a limited effective government. He's made a good case throughout the debates. That's the framework he wants to close the sale.

SHAW: From Mary Matalin and Mike McCurry to Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: We are just minutes away from CNN's coverage of the St. Louis town meeting.

Just a reminder, during the debate you can join the real-time spin with Bill Press and Tucker Carlson at CNN.com.

And at midnight Eastern, Bill and Tucker will return to host the CNN SPIN ROOM" on television.

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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