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Candidates Will be on Guard for Unexpected Questions in Tonight's DebateAired October 17, 2000 - 2:21 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight's final presidential debate will go on as scheduled despite the death of the Missouri Governor, Mel Carnahan. The face-off in St. Louis is the last encounter between the two major party candidates, exactly three weeks before Americans go to the polls.
Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in St. Louis.
Is everybody ready, Candy?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: As far as we can tell, everyone is ready. They have, after all, had, as you mentioned, two of these debates. They have basically used the weekends prior to the debates as debate prep.
A little bit different this time in that this is a town-hall- meeting style debate. What's happened here is that the Gallup poll has identified over 145 Missouri voters, all of them undecided. They will be asking the questions here this evening. While they will not be allowed to have follow-ups, the moderator, as always, Jim Lehrer will be able to follow-up and have a discussion about the question if he deems that necessary.
How high are the stakes tonight? Probably every bit as high as they were in the first two debates. Take a look at the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll showing George Bush at 47 and Al Gore at 44. Still a very tight race -- given a slight edge to George Bush.
Now, For Bush the bar is, again, first of all, do no harm. No major mistakes. He would like to talk about some of the home and hearth issues: Medicare, Social Security. Perhaps for Al Gore, the bar is not higher, but a bit more difficult. He was cryptanalysis, as you remember, in the first debate as being too aggressive and as being somewhat condescending by his critics.
Then came the second debate and Democrats said he wasn't aggressive enough, that he was far too mellow. Now comes this third debate and the question is, Al Gore's presentation tonight. He got a little help today from his vice presidential candidate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Al Gore is going to be himself and I think the important thing, if the debate goes forward, is that he will clarify the choice that the American people have in what seems to be the closest presidential election in 40 years.
The fact is that we are the party that brought the change, that brought prosperity to America and did it in a way that was fiscally responsible, turning deficits into surpluses; and we are, therefore, the party best able to continue the prosperity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Now, even as Al Gore tries to make that case, George Bush will try to make the case that the agenda the vice president is presenting is a big-government agenda, that what voters would be selecting would be a return to big government. Bush will also try to stress his nature as a bipartisan conciliator; the that he believes he will be better able than Al Gore to bring all sides together to get some solutions to things like Medicare and Social Security -- Lou.
WATERS: About the format, Candy: the questions that will be asked -- do the candidates know what these questions are going to be? Does anybody know? Are they screened?
How does that work?
CROWLEY: Well, the questioners have been invited to write out their questions so you don't have those, sort of, long, meandering things. Jim Lehrer will be able to select them and to take a look at them. But, no, the candidates don't know what the questions are.
But both of these candidates, Al Gore in particular, has done a lot of town hall meetings. George Bush, certainly, this year has done a lot of them himself. So they know that a lot of times you can get, kind of, the unexpected question. They're both fully prepared on policy. Every once in a while you get one of those softer questions like, why should I vote for you?
It tends to stump candidates, so they're on the lookout for a number of those questions and they think that it's possible, also, that international policy will come up, given what's going on in the Middle East.
WATERS: Does this format favor one candidate or the other?
CROWLEY: Well, you know, it's hard to tell. Again, both of them have had some practice at it. Certainly, Al Gore, a lot more practice.
It's not something that George Bush has always liked in terms of a debate format. He, like his father, thought that there was way too much theatrics in it -- the kind of walking around the podium and going into the crowd. They felt that there was a phoniness to that in a debate setting. But, you know, he's been, again doing a lot of these out in the road, so I think they both feel fairly comfortable with it. So -- but in terms of just sheer experience, Al Gore, when he was running for the House early on in his career used to do these in Tennessee. So, certainly, he's done more of them than George Bush has.
WATERS: All right; Candy Crowley.
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