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2000 Presidential Debate: The Voters Respond

Aired October 17, 2000 - 11:17 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to our restored one-room schoolhouse here in Warren, Michigan, just outside of Detroit -- excuse me.

Tamala Edwards, a reporter from "Time" magazine is standing by. She's at Washington University in St. Louis.

Tamala, you watched this debate like all of us. You're a little closer to the scene of the activity over there. But we did see a different Al Gore today than we saw last week at Wake Forest University.

TAMALA EDWARDS, "TIME" CORRESPONDENT: You know, it was absolutely fascinating, Wolf. For a guy who, in the first debate, was declared to be far too assertive, in the second debate to be too nice, he clearly almost threw the cards up in the air and said: I'm going to do what I want to do.

And in the first five minutes, I thought we might have a Rick Lazio, Hillary Clinton moment, as he got right off the stool and went into George Bush's space, and pretty much owned the stage, and was much more expansive in how he moved around and how he interacted. And it's an interesting gamble. Here in the debate room, it seems to have paid off among the people chattering.

But then next thing people always says is: Well, we'll see in 12 hours, in 24 hours how it plays in the polls, though it sounds there where you are that it seems to have done pretty well for him there.

BLITZER: Certainly the reaction there was pretty favorable. But you are not one of those who thought that Al Gore, this new assertive, more combative Al Gore, necessarily did that well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I thought he started much stronger than Bush. But I thought Bush finished stronger. He looked better at the end. But I caught too much of a pit bull dog in Al Gore.

BLITZER: What was that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pit bull dog attitude.

BLITZER: You don't like that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attack. It kind of turned me off. BLITZER: A lot of people say they want a fighter, though. They want somebody in the White House who's going fight for what Al Gore was saying, the middle class.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well there's fighting for what you want and there's being argumentative and that's what I picked up. That's how I felt about it.

BLITZER: So you felt uncomfortable.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt that Gore came back to stand up for what he believed in and it was too much of a counterattack on both sides.

BLITZER: And what issue?


BLITZER: Yes. You know, Tamala, I know that when you're watching it as a reporter on the scene, you know, you have your opinion, you see what's happening, you get reaction immediately from a lot of people who are there in the so called spin room, but the strategy that Al Gore had today seemed to be a very, very deliberate strategy given the criticism that followed last week when he seemed to be Mr. Nice Guy and agreed with George W. Bush on a lot of issues?

EDWARDS: Well, one of the things that was interesting to me and I'd love it hear feedback from there in the room with you was the number of times Gore said, well, there's a big difference between me and my opponent on this. Last week he spent a lot of time saying, well, we agree. And this time he took pretty much opportunity to pretty much say there's a big divide here. And I wonder whether or not that really worked for the people there in your room? Did they like that? Did it say to them here's the contrast? Or did they not like that.

BLITZER: All right, well, let's go around here. What about that, the difference of opinion that we heard. Is that good to hear that really sharp contrast?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's very good. Last week I did think Vice President Gore seemed rather wimpy by agreeing with Bush. I wanted to see the differences. He wants my vote, he's got to convince me why, and I do like him to be slightly of a pit bull. I want somebody strong. I want somebody they can believe in, and somebody that carries his own weight. He knows his issues. He knows his stands. I think today he proved it.

BLITZER: Give that gentleman the microphone because I want to follow up on that specific point. Al Gore certainly did well in the primaries when he was running against former Senator Bill Bradley by saying I will fight for you and he went on the offensive, meaning that there would be a Democrat that would fight the Republicans, presumably. Bill Bradley didn't fight as hard. It was successful for him in the primaries. You think it can be successful for him now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's worked for him his entire political career, so why should, you know, he deviate from it.

BLITZER: He did last week, though, he tried to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and he was sort of taken off balance, too, by it.

BLITZER: So he really wasn't himself.


BLITZER: Was there a defining moment for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think that Al Gore showed that he knew his facts much more than what Bush did. Bush hemmed and hawed. Beat around the bush and didn't give direct answers to several of the questions. And I think that was reflected in the Gallup poll that we saw. People are seeing that and that's brought a change as it did in this room and across the country.

BLITZER: Give her that microphone, because I think she wants to comment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think for somebody that hasn't totally followed the polls, hasn't totally been up to the news but does want to vote and is interested what's going on, if they were to tune into this debate right now, which is the last debate, they would see, I think, that Gore came out so much more stronger than Bush did.

And I think that's, like. a really positive thing for Gore, and, I mean, that's what sticks in your mind. This is the last debate and this is what people are looking at and, I mean, just from -- just from the polls like what's going on in the 43 percent to the 46 percent that's going for Gore. I mean, that's showing and that's the last...

BLITZER: Well, did you come into this debate this evening having had your mind made up who you are going to vote for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no. I was kind of -- I was undecided, maybe was going a little bit towards Gore, but with this particular debate that it did persuade my mind to vote for Gore.

BLITZER: So this has been a defining moment, this debate?


BLITZER: Let's move over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the things I wanted to mention that actually kind of surprised me about Bush was that he kept talking about giving the tax breaks to everybody, and to me that's contradictory in our country. We've had a progressive income tax in this country for a long time and now he, you know, kind of -- I got the opinion he wanted to cancel that. BLITZER: You know, I'm not specifically...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And without mentioning a flat tax. You know, that was a key phrase a few years ago. Is that really where he's going with it? I wasn't comfortable with it.

BLITZER: Well, you didn't hear anybody talk about a flat tax here this evening.


BLITZER: You know, there were some significant exchanges on the whole issue, the philosophy of tax cuts, and I want to replay that one exchange between Bush and Gore on the whole issue of where they stand on tax cuts.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under my plan, in four years, as a percentage of our gross domestic product, federal spending will be the smallest that it has been in 50 years. One reason is, you know, the third biggest spending item in our budget is interest on the national debt? We get nothing for it.

We keep the good faith and credit of the United States. I will pay down the debt every single year until it is eliminated early in the next decade. That gets rid of the third biggest intrusion of the federal government in our economy. Now because the governor has all this money for a tax cut mostly to the wealthy, there is no money left over. So schools get testing, and a lawsuit reform, and not much else.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you pay taxes, you ought to get tax relief. The vice president believes that only the right people ought to get tax relief. I don't think that's the role of the president to pick you're right, and you're not right.

I think if you are going have tax relief, everybody ought to get it. And therefore, wealthy people are going to get it. But the top 1 percent will end up paying one third of the taxes in America and they get one fifth of the benefits and that's because we structured the plan so that 6 million additional American families pay no taxes.

If you're a family of four making $50,000 in Missouri you get a 50 percent cut in your federal income taxes. What I've done is set priorities and funded them and there's extra money and I believe the people who pay the bills ought to get some money back. It's a difference of opinion. He wants to grow government and I trust with you your own money.


BLITZER: Obviously, a clear difference of view between these two candidates on the entire issue of tax cuts. We're going to pick that up. More with town meeting in Warren, Michigan when we come back.



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