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SPIN ROOM: Spinning the Third Presidential Debate

Aired October 18, 2000 - 0:00 a.m. ET


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: This is THE SPIN ROOM in St. Louis, Missouri. It's where representatives from campaigns come to convince reporters that their guy did better.

Michelle Cottle is there too. She'll join us shortly.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: And this is THE SPIN ROOM, your spin room that reaches all the way across the United States and where you get to have your say on what the candidates said tonight.

And, Tucker, I've just got to tell you, I think this was the best of the three debates so far. I loved the format. You get real people asking real questions about real issues. And I thought both candidates did well. But gush -- Gore, rather -- gush -- Gore was on fire.

And Bush sometimes looked like he was taking Sominex. I mean, he sort of had this low-level thing about him.

CARLSON: Well, Gore does have this kind of teacher's quality, this pedantic quality, that does lull people to sleep when it doesn't infuriate them. But I think that was part of the problem. You saw Gore revert to Gore. And it was nice.

I mean, Gore did take the advice of a lot of his flacks and people around him, be yourself. And I think Gore as himself is pretty unattractive. And I think that's what Americans saw.

PRESS: No, au contraire. I mean, I think Gore was definitely Gore. This was the real Al Gore.

My question is why did it take him so long? It took him three debates to finally get back in his form. But he was there. He went up to the questions. He answered them directly. And he didn't let Bush get away with anything.

And if anything, I thought that Bush sometimes looked like a whiner. I mean, Gore would jump up and answer questions. "Is that fair? Is he allowed to do that?"

CARLSON: Well, that was a bit Gore-like, actually. "Oh, my opponent's being mean to me." That's not an attractive quality.

But I did think Bush did something smart. He decided that he's not going to play on Gore's terms. He's not going to get into a detail fight with Al Gore. You can't win.

And so time after time, Gore would say, "Well, tell me what specifically you do about this." And Bush didn't rise to the debate. He didn't.

He said, "Look, let me tell you my vision for America." It could be annoying. And it is annoying. But it works.

PRESS: Disagree. I think what Bush decided tonight that he was going to do what Al Gore did the last time. He reminded me of Al Gore in the last debate. And that's why Gore lost that last debate and I think why Bush lost this last debate. He was just monotonic.

CARLSON: This is like a science fiction movie then. Each candidate is assuming the personality of the other in turn. It really is like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

PRESS: By the way, what's wrong with breaking the rules? I don't get it.

CARLSON: Oh, there's nothing wrong with it at all. And it's clear to me that Jim Lehrer read the "New York Times" piece today in which a lot of different political types were quoted as saying, "Jim, get control." And he did. And it was interesting to see a PBS guy who's spent 30 years being polite try to be rough. I'm not sure it worked.

PRESS: Basically, just before we go to the chat room, I'll just tell you one thing. There was one big, big, big mistake that George Bush made tonight. He said, "Forget the journalists."

CARLSON: You know, he came very close to losing the reporter vote, not that he had it.

Let's check out what some of you were saying in CNN's chat room.

PRESS: Here we go.

CARLSON: "It was weird to see Al Gore say he was for smaller government. Have the Democrats learned something?"

I'm not sure they've learned anything. But it was striking to see Al Gore do that. It was a sort of piece of political judo. And I thought it was pretty effective.

PRESS: It was Clintonesque.

CARLSON: It was.

PRESS: The era of big government is over. And Gore has been in charge of rego (ph), which is Gore spelled sideways if you kind of look at it that way.


PRESS: And I think he can legitimately brag that they've reduced a little bit the size of the federal government. Anyhow, you see what we just saw and we just read. That's just a sample, just a smidgen, of what you're going to be hearing from yourselves tonight...

CARLSON: Sort of an echo chamber.

PRESS: ... in tonight's SPIN ROOM by phone and by e-mail. So join us. We want to hear from you, the real people.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Washington, Bill Press and Tucker Carlson invite your spin on tonight's debate in CNN's interactive SPIN ROOM.

PRESS: OK, welcome to round three of THE SPIN ROOM. Over the next hour, you're going to be hearing about what you have to say about tonight's final face-off between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Again, here's the phone number. You can call us 1-800-310-4CNN or you can post your comments in our CNN chat room. The address is

And I'm going to go back to some of these e-mails, Tucker, because they've been so good. Daniel from Connecticut: "How did Gore get away with saying he isn't for big government? And what was with Bush's sleepy, tranquilized demeanor?"

I thought both of them, good point, and sense that both of them got away with saying things that seemed to be going against the grain, or not what you would expect them to say.

CARLSON: I think the sleepy, tranquilized demeanor, I agree. I mean, there was definitely a Sominex quality to Bush a lot of the time. I think that is partly a reflection of the fact that Gore understands that Bush can be made to look irritated. And Bush is trying to resist it. He comes off as very, very calm.

PRESS: OK, telephone call. John (ph) calling from Texas, the governor's home state.

Hey, John, thanks for joining us. You're in THE SPIN ROOM. What's your comment?

CALLER: Well, I believe Gore in terms of the military doesn't know what he's talking about. He says our military is in fine shape. And in actuality, if you look at it, in Germany our troops are being rotated into Bosnia and other areas. And the reserve forces, the Reserves and the National Guard both, are taking up about approximately 50 percent of the active Army mission. They're being activated nine months at a time.

Now if our military is in such good shape...

PRESS: All right, John, what's your point? We don't have a lot of time. We have a lot of people want to talk. What's your point very quickly? Sum it up please.

CALLER: The point is that he doesn't know anything about the military or he hasn't been studying it because he doesn't know where we actually stand. I've been with the military under six presidents. PRESS: All right, John.

CARLSON: Hasn't been studying it? Now, we learned tonight that Al Gore spent years in a foxhole in Vietnam. I mean, again, you get back to the Vietnam veteran thing. He makes the point, "I know the military."

PRESS: You've got to be fair. He did not claim he was in a foxhole. In fact, he said, "I may not have been on the front lines. I may not have had the toughest duty." But at least he was there. He wasn't in the National Guard.

CARLSON: That's right. I think that's a fair point.

PRESS: He wasn't in the National Guard, Tucker.

OK, let's look a little bit about the debate, OK? This is where I thought one of the places where I thought Gore really showed that he was in control of this debate tonight. Here it is, just a clip.


VICE PRES. AL GORE, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All right, here we go again. Now look, if you want someone who will spend a lot of words describing a whole convoluted process and then end up supporting legislation that is supported by the big drug companies, this is your man.


PRESS: Bam. Here we go again. Walks right in, takes charge. If you want somebody with drug company support, this is your man. I've got to tell you, very effective I believe.

CARLSON: Well, it is nice to see that they have at least a difference. I mean, it was so much better than last week where they were agreeing with one another over everything in the most fawning, syrupy way. I'm just not sure the big drug companies are as scary as Standard Oil was in the last century. I don't know how many Americans are sitting quaking in their living rooms over the thought of big oil or the big drug companies controlling their lives.

PRESS: Except if you're a senior and you can't afford your drugs, maybe the drug companies are. But my point was I really thought again Bush took charge on almost every question and went after Bush. And several times Bush just...

CARLSON: Well, he does look better when he does that.

PRESS: ... just sat there. Yeah. Absolutely.

CARLSON: Let's go back to THE SPIN ROOM in St. Louis. "New Republic" Senior Editor Michelle Cottle is there gathering opinions with a rake we suspect about tonight's debate.

Michelle. PRESS: Michelle.

MICHELLE COTTLE, SENIOR EDITOR, "NEW REPUBLIC": Hi, guys. The spin is still going on down here. We've had everybody from Al Franken to Jim Nicholson.

But right now I've got with me Ben Smilowitz and Chris Stetler, who are respectively the head of the College Democrats and Republicans. And they're going to talk to us tonight kind of what the youth were looking for in this and whether they found it.

And we've decided to be completely fair. We're going to flip a coin to see who goes first. So guys, you're going to call it.


COTTLE: All right, let's see if we can do this here. Heads it is.


COTTLE: So you're going to have to stick around and stay with us next segment.

So, OK, they talked a lot about Social Security and what somebody in the focus group I was watching called old people's issues. But for young people watching this, what were they looking for? And did they get it?

SMILOWITZ: Between the two candidates, Gore won it by far with young people because he talked about campaign finance reform. Campaign finance reform gives more power to young people because they don't have to compete with the big oil company executives in Texas that are basically funding his campaign, Bush's campaign.

So we're talking about campaign finance reform. We're talking about higher education support.

And Gore also committed himself to a youth debate. And Bush doesn't want that. Bush does not get along with young people because he doesn't have any positions that are good for them.

But Gore is for good public schools. He's against vouchers. I think young people really identify with that.

COTTLE: OK, I think I probably could have guessed that you would have this opinion. But we're going to come back and give your counterpart a fair shot at the response.

Guys, back to you.

PRESS: Nice to have that even keel. We've got the Democrat now. We'll be back with the Republican.

So, Tucker, we've got another soundbite here from the debate you were interested in. CARLSON: We sure do. One of the sort of recurring themes you've seen Al Gore talk about is the top one percent. And I would imagine along with cigarette smokers and the fat -- that's one of the few groups that's left you're allowed to hate. And I thought it was very striking tonight that Bush in his limited way stood up for rich people. Listen to this.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if you're going to have tax relief, everybody ought to get it. And therefore, wealthy people are going to get it.

But the top one percent will end up paying one-third of the taxes in America. And they get one-fifth of the benefits. I believe the people who pay the bills ought to get some money back.


CARLSON: Well, this is what you've got to do. If you're opponent is hitting you as a pawn of the rich, at some point you have to say, "You know what? I am. And I also represent the rest of America."

I thought it was much better than running away from it. And frankly, I was glad to hear the one percent finally defended by somebody. They deserve a champion.

PRESS: Well, believe it or not, I was too because I think George Bush is trying to have it both ways on this thing where his tax cut is clearly benefits the top one percent. Maybe you and I are in it more than anybody else. And Bush tonight finally admitted it. I'm glad he did.

My question though is I heard so much about tax cuts from Al Gore and George W. Bush tonight I was sick of hearing it again. I wonder whether there's anybody left in America to be persuaded by that argument and why they feel they have to spend so much time on it. Just a question. I'm not sure.

CARLSON: But it's kind of interesting, though. People always said, "Well, the tax cut stuff doesn't get votes." That was the conventional understanding of it.

And then you hear Bush sort of advertising his tax cut in the most aggressive way. Clearly they focus grouped this. Clearly, it works.

PRESS: Focus groups.

All right, lots more coming up. But we're going to have to take a quick break.

Still lots of ground to cover. And in a bit, our old friends Jake Taper of and Robert George of the "New York Post." You remember them from last week. They're going to be back in THE SPIN ROOM with us tonight.

But first, Tucker.

CARLSON: First, tons more of your phone calls and your chat room comments when SPIN ROOM continues. And it will.


CARLSON: Welcome back to THE SPIN ROOM where you get to sound off loudly if you like about what George W. Bush and Al Gore had to say in tonight's third and final debate.

Sounding off first is Diane (ph) from Oregon. Diane?

PRESS: Hey, Diane. Hi.

CALLER: Hello.

CARLSON: What did you think?



CALLER: I just have a couple of comments. Number one, I'm real glad to see that Gore is back to himself.

And number two is that at times of bankruptcy and credit card debt, I'd like to know how many people can really manage their own money. And to have Bush stating that everybody should be investing their own money kind of scares me.

CARLSON: Well, that's an interesting -- I think she makes an interesting point. Are the American people too stupid to handle the freedom that Bush offers them? Do you think?

PRESS: Well, I think...


PRESS: Let me see, as one who cannot even balance his own checkbook, I'm not sure I would trust myself to invest in the market. Thanks, Diane, for the call.

Let's go back to the chat room here to get the latest comment. "I don't get how people can support Bush when he doesn't have a grasp about what's going on internationally."

You know, it was interesting, first of all, that there was only one question on foreign policy tonight. We all thought foreign policy based on what's been happening would sort of dominate this debate the way it did the last one.

But secondly, I also have to say I think the viewer is correct. When Bush was talking about foreign policy, he was just mouthing platitudes, mouthing generalities. It was pretty clear he didn't know what he was talking about...


CARLSON: Oh, come on. If you get upset every time the platitude light goes off, you must have been in a rage.

PRESS: Well, you won't be surprised to know that both the Democrats and the Republicans have spin rooms up and running on the web tonight. We've been taking a look at them with the help of CNN's Rick Lockridge keeping an eye on both rooms for us. He joins us now from CNN Interactive in Atlanta to tell us what's going on.

Hi, Rick.


PRESS: What are they up to?

LOCKRIDGE: Well, before the first debate, they decided -- the candidates did -- that they were going to post real time rebuttals, counterclaims, and denials even as the debate was going on. I guess they figured people watch the debate, and they would rush over to their computers and find out, "Is it true what he said? Is it true?"

So that's what they were doing all along. But they have really outdone themselves tonight, starting with the Bush campaign, which set up a special site for this, And they have accused Gore tonight of more than 30 inventions, 30 inventions.

I'm waiting for the question, the follow-up question. Tucker? Anyone? Was one of them the Internet? No, one of them wasn't the Internet.

But they have 25 single-spaced pages worth of inventions they accuse Gore of. Let's just take one at random here.

Gore said that the special interests have too much power. And the rebuttal from the George W. Bush campaign is, "Gore had collected more campaign donations from lobbyists than any other presidential candidate."

And it goes on and on and on. And they use charts and graphs and tables and excerpts and federal reports.

These people obviously anticipated everything that was going to be said tonight. And they were ready with it.

And you go to the Gore campaign's web site. And it's the same exact thing. They do him one better. They've got a reality check on everything that Bush said tonight.

We can go down the list here. We'll pick one of these. Crime. OK, we'll click on this one.

So they're going to attack anything that Bush said about crime. And not only that, they're giving anybody who comes to the web site a chance to send this page, this denial, this rebuttal, to nine of their closest friends. So clearly, they're trying to use the web to the utmost.

But what really impressed me about both candidates' efforts is that they did such a good job anticipating what was going to be said. And they were so prepared. And so it's almost like we don't need a debate anymore.

We're getting to the point where the spin comes before the debate. And there's no point in even televising the thing.

CARLSON: It's wonderfully automated, isn't it?

PRESS: It is.

Hey, Rick, great report. Thank you.

And I've just got to add, being in THE SPIN ROOM, the online spin room, before we get to the on-air spin room, those pages were coming from the Bush and Gore campaign so fast. I mean, they were being run in to the offices. And obviously, they had anticipated a lot of questions. And as soon as the topic came up, boom.

CARLSON: It was unbelievable. My mailbox on my e-mail account was totally full.

Michelle, tell us, speaking of what's going on in THE SPIN ROOM, you're there with people actually verbally spinning to you. What is going on in St. Louis?

COTTLE: They're all around me. I actually can't even hear you, Tucker.

We're sitting down here. We're going to talk to Ceci Connolly next, been following the Gore campaign.

Things are slowing down a little bit. But there's still a sense that it doesn't matter what team you were on, you can make a pretty good case that your guy won tonight. It was really close to call.

CARLSON: What cases are they making, Ceci?

CECI CONNOLLY, "WASHINGTON POST": Here in THE SPIN ROOM, basically what you're hearing from the Bush camp is that Vice President Gore was pedantic, preachy, overbearing in terms of style. They also said that he was damaged with Governor Bush's charges that he's the typical big government liberal.

Coming out of the Gore camp with respect to how Governor Bush did, the Gore folks are saying that the focus groups and those dial groups that everybody likes to watch so carefully really liked what the vice president had to say on Social Security, on health care, especially prescription drugs. So the Gore campaign is keeping with its message that on the issues the vice president has the advantage.

PRESS: So it sounds to me like the Bush people are just out-and- out saying Gore has a bad personality. I mean, are they coming out and saying that?

CONNOLLY: Just about. We are almost at that point. They are trying to make the case that it's not a very presidential temperament. I think that could be a difficult argument to make. But clearly what they're saying is that in this time of great economic vibrancy, what's the matter with...

PRESS: OK, Ceci -- I'm sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to thank you for joining us. We've got a lot of phone calls we've got to get to.

And thanks to Michelle too. We'll be back to Michelle there in THE SPIN ROOM shortly.

Tucker, let's go back to the phones. This is Don (ph). Don is calling from Michigan.

Hello, Don. Good evening. Welcome to THE SPIN ROOM.

CALLER: Hello, Bill. How are you?

PRESS: Good. And what's your point, Don?

CALLER: Well, the purpose of my phone call this evening, Bill and Tucker, is to let you know that I'm an independent voter. I have not ever registered for either party. And I saw something tonight that really bothered me.

PRESS: Let's hear it.

CALLER: What I saw was a political chameleon. It looked to me like Al Gore had been programmed to attack. And it's a little upsetting to see such divisive, embarrassing approach for what we're trying to accomplish as a country together.

PRESS: All right.

CALLER: I think that really upset me in my approach to what I think we can accomplish in this country is something we can all pull for and work toward.

PRESS: All right, Don, thank you. Thank you for the comment.

Those independent voters out there. And still some undecided voters out there.

CARLSON: The most coveted votes in America. If you live in Michigan and you're undecided, they just come and camp out in your living room.

PRESS: (INAUDIBLE) from both campaigns for the next week or so. Let's go back -- I've got another soundbite here, Tucker, that I know you're going to love. And again...

CARLSON: I love them all, Bill.

PRESS: ... this was I thought one of Al Gore's better moments, and a theme I had not heard so far.

CARLSON: It's a low threshold. But hit me with it.

PRESS: I hadn't heard so far in this campaign, listen up, here we go.


GORE: If you want somebody who believes that we were better off eight years ago than we are now and that we ought to go back to the kind of policies that we had back then, emphasizing tax cuts mainly for the wealthy, here is your man. If you want somebody who will fight for you and who will fight to have middle class tax cuts, then I am your man. I want to be.


PRESS: First of all, do you notice that Bush just sits there like a bump on a log, and Gore just mows him down? You want somebody who's going to be on the side of those big corporations, he's your man.

CARLSON: It's so sort of 1930s depression-era labor leader talk. "On the side of the rich," I mean, come on, I mean, it's the year 2000.

PRESS: I don't care what you call it. I think it works. And the theme, if you think you were better off eight years ago than you are today, then vote for him. I bet we're going to be hearing that a lot more. I had not heard it yet so far in this campaign.

CARLSON: Well, he should have talked about it more.

We have to take another break. But when we return, Jake Tapper and Robert George weigh in on tonight's face-off. Plus more of what you're saying, a lot more. THE SPIN ROOM will be right back.


PRESS: Welcome back to THE SPIN ROOM. Here is where you get to register your comments loud and proud on how the candidates did in tonight's debate.

We'll start off, Tucker, with a comment from the chat room this time. "Bush may have evaded questions tonight, but Gore broke the rules in order to get Bush in that position." I would just say, exactly.

I mean, as far as I'm concerned, rebel that I am maybe, rules are made to be broken. You take charge of the debate. You ask the other guy a question. You move up. You push as far as you can, right?

CARLSON: Of course they are. Tell me, Bill, about Lithuania. Say, "You know, I'm not going to answer that question. Let me tell you about something I want to talk about." Of course. It's time tested. And it works. Except when the entire country is looking at you to be an overbearing creep, you really have to not act like one.

PRESS: It's called leadership. That's what taking control is, Tucker. It's leadership.

CARLSON: I tend to agree. I'm all for rule breaking in debate. I just think that it's...

PRESS: "Oh, Mr. Lehrer, is he allowed to do that?"

CARLSON: ... I know, I know. "He's being mean," I totally agree with you.

But, I mean, Gore really does have to prove he's not a jerk. I feel sorry for him. It's sort of a poignant situation.

PRESS: He proved it tonight, OK? Ready for Michelle?

CARLSON: Michelle, I hope you're there in St. Louis. You have a Young Republican on tap. And I hope he's going to offer a vigorous defense of Governor Bush. Is he?

COTTLE: I'm quite confident he can support his man. I mean, earlier we were talking with the head of the Democratic students here at Washington University. Now we have Chris Stetler, the head of the Republicans.

Tonight there was some talk about apathy and how to get people back involved in the process, particularly younger voters. Now can you make an argument for how your guy could do this?

CHRIS STETLER, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY COLLEGE REPUBLICANS: Oh, of course. I think unfortunately right now, Michelle, too many of our youth don't really trust government. And Gore came into tonight's debate and basically said, "Regardless of what I've done in the past, you can trust me." And due to the size of his plans for the federal government, I think it's pretty risky to take his word for that.

He wants to increase education involvement with the federal government. He wants to take away power with Social Security and Medicare, while Governor Bush basically says, "Hey, it's not the government's responsibility to take care of your money. I'm going to give your money back to all Americans regardless of income. And I want you to invest your money in the places that you want to do it."

COTTLE: So it's a believability and character issue for you?

STETLER: And also individual power. I think young people are excited about investing their own money.

COTTLE: Well, I'm sure Governor Bush would be pleased to hear this.

Tucker, back to you guys. CARLSON: Well, Bill, notice the manners on that kid. That was a -- this is a gentleman in training. Contrast him with some of the guys on the other side. Truly he's a pretty gentle spokesman.

PRESS: I was impressed with both of those students tonight. I mean, I thought that both of the student leaders, I thought they spoke well. And I think they both were gentlemen that represented their case well. Good for Washington University.

CARLSON: Amen. Speaking of gentlemen, we have two on hold here. They gave us their spin at last week's debate. And they are back tonight.

Joining us from New York is Robert George, associate editorial page editor of the venerable "New York Post."


CARLSON: And in THE SPIN ROOM in St. Louis near the buffet table is Jake Tapper, Washington correspondent for


PRESS: Tucker, first I have just to point out everybody saw Robert George is wearing his Yankees cap because the Yankees won tonight...

CARLSON: Well...

PRESS: ... That means it's going to be the subway series, right, Robert?

GEORGE: Bill, I think you guys know who I thought won tonight. It was first of all the New York Yankees. And second of all, it was the city of New York. In fact, I think I may have been one of three people in the city who was watching this debate tonight.

PRESS: All right, enough of a plug for New York.


CARLSON: Jake, tell me if you noticed this. So many of the questions were of the good citizenship variety. You felt like people wanted to ask Gore, for instance, "What's with your hair?" But instead, they asked questions like, "Tell me about the future of Social Security." Do you think a debate format like this where citizens feel compelled to ask questions like this is helpful?

JAKE TAPPER, SALON.COM: Yeah. I think it's great to have citizens ask the questions. I think, for instance, we had a citizen in the audience ask Governor Bush a question that I've never heard a reporter have the courage to ask Governor Bush, which is, "Why does he always have that creepy smile on his mug whenever he's talking about capital punishment?" And I thought that that voter deserved some props for that question. PRESS: Well, Robert George, let me ask you, it seemed to me that George Bush decided to take the high road tonight. No matter what, he was going to be a nice guy and low key. Is that the way you read it? And do you think it worked?

GEORGE: That's the way I read it. And I'll be an actual humble pundit and say I'm not sure if it worked. I think he hit his themes really well. He wanted to be very thematic. He talked about trust.

One of his key points was when he said, "It really comes down to one question. Who do you trust, the people or the government?" And he says, "I trust the people." He talked a lot about accountability.

And I think that worked. However, as we've noticed in these debates before, you also have to look at things like body language and things like that. And I thought actually Gore did himself pretty well.

Yes he came off pedantic and preachy, which he can't avoid. But at the same time, he seemed to stroll around the stage. He was not quite, but almost Clintonesque.

PRESS: OK, we're going to take a quick break here. I just want to warn you, Robert, before we take a break, that Tucker and I don't allow too much humility on this show.


GEORGE: I'll make up for that in the next -- well, you know, in New York, you've got to be humble.

PRESS: Good point.

CARLSON: A lot to be humble about.

PRESS: You haven't seen the end of Robert George and Jake Tapper. They're going to be back and join us. Plus, you'll be back with your phone calls and your chat room comments.

More SPIN ROOM coming up. Bill Press and Tucker Carlson. Stay with us.


CARLSON: Welcome back to THE SPIN ROOM, where you give us your score card on how George W. Bush and Al Gore fared in their final face to face meeting.

PRESS: And Tucker, we're going to go right to the phones. The west is coming through tonight. They've stayed up. Utah, from Utah it's Jonathan (ph). Hey, Jonathan, welcome to THE SPIN ROOM.

CALLER: Yeah, hi. I watched, I was watching the debate and what I noticed was that when they asked a question that Bush actually tried to answer the question whereas Al Gore seemed to talk about lots of other things. For example, in the case when they were talking about whether or not parents were accountable for education of their own children, which is a difficult question to answer, Bush, although it was hard to answer that question, he actually tried to, whereas Gore wanted to talk about other things which didn't really seem to be that related.

PRESS: Interesting. I think, I actually think both of them did a good job of answering when they wanted to and not answering when they didn't want to.

CARLSON: I like it when candidates don't answer the question. I think it's very illustrative...

PRESS: They're not required to answer a question.

CARLSON: They're certainly not. It's still a free country, Bill. But you know what they can do? They can reinforce unattractive preconceptions about themselves and I do think Gore did that a bit tonight. Gore took the opportunity to talk about...

PRESS: Reinvented himself?

CARLSON: Well, he went back to an old theme which is, of course, agriculture. Listen to this.


GORE: Now, many here who are not involved in farming don't -- won't follow this so just forgive me because the two percent of the country that is involved in farming is important because the rest of us wouldn't eat except for them.


CARLSON: Now, I guess I admire the brass it requires, if you're Al Gore and you've taken so much heat over the years for piling steep hillsides and talking about your bucolic agricultural upbringing to actually in a national debate say things like those of you who aren't involved in farming might not follow this, it's very bold, you must admit.

PRESS: I know. And then George Bush gets up there in response and says don't forget, if you own the land, every day is Earth Day, whatever that means. It's the second time he's said it. I think it's the stupidest thing he ever says.

CARLSON: Well, it is such a bumper sticker.

PRESS: But I want to get Robert George and Jake Tapper back in here too, guys. Robert George from the "New York Post" joins us in New York and Jake Tapper of, of course, is in the spin room in St. Louis. And guys, I want you to listen to a little exchange about affirmative action, OK, that -- from tonight's debate and then get your reaction to it. Here are both candidates, starting with Al Gore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GORE: He said if affirmative action means quotas he's against it. Affirmative action doesn't mean quotas. Are you for it without quotas?

BUSH: I may not be for your version, Mr. Vice President, but I'm for what I just described to the lady. She heard my answer.

GORE: Are you for what the Supreme Court says is a constitutional way of having affirmative action?

BUSH: Jim...

LEHRER: Let's go on to another...


CARLSON: Robert George?

GEORGE: Well...

CARLSON: Who won that exchange?

GEORGE: Well, I thought Bush did because, I mean, Gore can say that affirmative action doesn't mean quotas but for a lot of people it does. On the other hand, I think Bush's creation of affirmative access is a good way for him to work with minority voters who are afraid that if -- he's going to go all out against affirmative action, he's going to be against opportunity and so forth. And so I think in a sense of changing the language benefits, I think it benefits, it benefits Bush or at least it gets him over to some moderate and some minority voters.

PRESS: Well, Jake Tapper, do you think this sort of redefining affirmative action as affirmative access really played?

TAPPER: Yeah, I don't know what debate Tucker and Robert saw. I was very critical of Vice President Gore for the first debate and the second debate but I have to say, he killed Bush tonight. He just destroyed him. Bush was evasive, he lied. I don't even, I mean I can't even conceive of a world in which Governor Bush even remotely approached even tying Gore in this debate.

GEORGE: Well, you know, I will say this. You know...


GEORGE: Look, I will say this, you know, we were actually all worried last week when we saw Jake. We were going to send him out on -- send out a suicide watch because he was so upset at how poorly Gore did last week. And I, no, I will say this. I will say this. I thought Gore did do very well and I think he did well for himself. He tried to be himself and he didn't completely try to interrupt Jim Lehrer all the time like he did in the first debate.

TAPPER: Look, from the very -- Robert, Robert, from the very first question about Patients Bill of Rights, Governor Bush lied. The answer he gave was that they had a Patients Bill of Rights in Texas that he and the Republicans and Democrats had worked on. That patients bill of rights he vetoed in 1995 and then in 1997, presented with a veto-proof majority, he let it pass without signing it. And every answer he gave having to do with the Patients Bill of Rights he was either lying or evasive. And anything else...

GEORGE: And Jake...

TAPPER: (unintelligible).

GEORGE: And Jake, it's also the case that Bill Clinton takes credit for welfare reform even though he vetoed it, he vetoed it twice...

TAPPER: What are you -- why are you going...

GEORGE: He vetoed it twice in '96.

TAPPER: You've got to go back to Bill Clinton?


PRESS: Guys, guys, hold on.

CARLSON: Before we get into vetoes we...

PRESS: Hold on. I've got to tell you something...

TAPPER: Don't forget to bring up Monica Lewinsky.

GEORGE: Oh, no, I'm not going to go there, Jake. That's your favorite.

PRESS: Hey, Robert and Jake...

GEORGE: You dated her, I didn't.

PRESS: Woah, woah, woah, Robert and Jake, don't go away. We want to come back to. We've just got to -- a lot of people are getting in the chat room and in the phone room...

CARLSON: Though I do think that Robert George raised an interesting question about Jake Tapper dating Monica Lewinsky. It may be a subject for another show. But let's go to the chat room now and see what's there.

"Why is it important, why is it that people are ignoring the fact that Gore was so rude this evening?" Well, I can answer that question. I don't think people are. And as I said, I think there's been, in a way that's almost unfair to poor Al Gore, an undue amount of attention to his manners and his demeanor. I mean, after all, you know, does it matter if a president is a surly, unpleasant person?

PRESS: Let me tell you something. Al Gore was not rude tonight. There's a difference between making a point, there's a difference between being forceful, there's a difference between winning a debate and being rude.

CARLSON: I totally agree with you. I'm completely pro...

PRESS: So I mean that's my answer to the question.

CARLSON: I'm completely pro-aggressive and it is sad that people interpret any sort of aggression in that format as rudeness.

PRESS: In fact, at one point when Gore said something about the Texas record, Bush says well, when they attack me, as if, you know, hey, Gore doesn't have the right to question his record. Sure he does. Go for it, Al.

CALLER: The Byrd family (unintelligible)...

CARLSON: We, well, we -- ask the Byrd family. Well, maybe we'll get back to that when we come back. More phone calls from you, we'll go to the chat room and more from Robert George of the "New York Post" and Jake Tapper from, not to mention Michelle Cottle of the "New Republic."

PRESS: The "New Republic."

CARLSON: We'll be back.


PRESS: And welcome back to THE SPIN ROOM, your spin room where you get to weigh in on tonight's presidential debate. Bill Press here with Tucker Carlson. Lots of phone calls, Tucker.

CARLSON: Tons, including one from Tom from Michigan. Now, Tom, before you get your comment, let me ask you a question. You live in Michigan, obviously one of the battle, the fabled battleground states. How many phone calls have you received lately from pollsters or people from the candidates or fliers? Have you seen a lot of the candidates around?

CALLER: Not really.

PRESS: Oh...

CARLSON: They're not doing their jobs, then, Tom.

PRESS: Woah.

CARLSON: Well, tell us, what, where are you in deciding who to vote for?

CALLER: Well, I'll tell you, I thought Vice President Gore really was on the money tonight and the key part for me, as a middle class, middle income person is our national debt and I think both of the candidates should be looking at setting a goal such as President Kennedy did and say we're going to retire this national debt by this date. And once that national debt is retired, then we use the surplus to cut taxes, to fund, you know, other important things, not taking away from the education, Social Security, Medicaid today, but setting out a goal and saying instead of giving a tax cut today to the middle class or giving a tax cut to the top one percent, we're going to take the money that's left over and retire our national debt by this date.

PRESS: All right, Tom, we've got it. There's a challenge for both candidates, perhaps. We're going to...

CARLSON: Though I do think it would be nice to give the top one percent a tax cut before doing anything else. They need it.

PRESS: Those one percenters again, there they go. Let's go back to the spin room now. Michelle Cottle doing a great job there rounding up her own collection of spinners. You've got another important person for us to talk to, Michelle?

COTTLE: Absolutely. I'm here now with Richard Wolffe of the "Financial Times." Richard, listening to the CNN pundits even tonight, it sounds like there's a lot of heated controversy over who actually won this. Now, what is your headline for tonight's debate?

RICHARD WOLFFE, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, my feeling is if this is a wrestling match, it was a knockout for Al Gore. On the other hand, if it was, in John McCain's words, a prize for Miss. Congeniality, it goes to Bush. My feeling is I've been on the road with these guys for well over a year. At this stage it's about getting out the vote and Al Gore did a much better job of getting out the vote, talking to his own base, tonight.

COTTLE: You think mobilization he won hands down but as far as like, if this is a personality contest, you still think he's in trouble?

WOLFFE: Yeah, I do. You know, if he was trying to be nice, he failed. But you talk to the Gore folks and they're saying, you know, this is about energizing people and getting people out there. It's a close race. Even Bush is talking about getting people out, that the campaign with the biggest, the best grassroots organization is going to win. And Al Gore was talking to those folks tonight.

COTTLE: Well, guys, there you have it. It's still too close to call here. Back to you.

PRESS: All right, Michelle, thanks very much. You know, Michelle, Tucker there was talking about personality contest, I thought it was very interesting tonight when they got into the spending contest, which is actually kind of what George Bush referred to, you know, the difference between -- as the difference between him and Al Gore. You'll remember this little exchange here.


BUSH: If this were a spending contest, I'd come in second. I readily admit, I'm not going to grow the size of the federal government like he is.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PRESS: And what I thought was interesting about that is that was a question about military. That was a question about defense spending. So Bush goes on the one hand and he says the military has, you know, falling down under Clinton and Gore and I'm going to build them back up. Gore says I spend $100 million on the military and you only spend $45 million and then Bush turns around and says well if this were a spending contest, I would lose. He's admitting he will not spend as much on the defense spending as Al Gore.

CARLSON: But Bill, but you must admit it's an agile debate technique. And also, I mean, look, George W. Bush, I think, is far, far more disciplined as a candidate. He sticks far more closely to his message than we thought he would and he's repeated this over and over and over, you are the big government candidate. Sure, he's not answering the question, but he's making the point.

PRESS: Well, it was a theme that, I thought it was a theme he kept coming back to tonight and a theme that does work for him.

CARLSON: Sure it does.

PRESS: Yeah. In fact, I want to ask Robert George and Jake Tapper their comments on that. This, Jake, let me start with you, this theme of I'm against Washington, Bush used it over and over tonight. Effective?

TAPPER: Yeah. I think it was very effective. I think whenever he talks about Gore as a big spender, whenever he talks about himself trusting people while Gore trusts government, I think that's a very, very effective message for him. It's one that he's been -- Tucker's right, he's a very, very disciplined campaigner. He's been saying it for months and he's definitely been saying it throughout the last two debates or -- and now the third debate, whereas Gore has, you know, had this schizophrenic performance trying to find his voice and who he is, Bush has all along been saying that message, delivering that message.

PRESS: Robert George...

GEORGE: The...

PRESS: Go ahead, Robert.

GEORGE: I'm sorry, go ahead Tucker.

PRESS: The related question, Robert, is, that George Bush is running against Washington but he also brags that he's surrounded by, you know, Dick Cheney and George Schulz and Condi Rice and all these old Washington hands, sort of trying to have it both ways, maybe?

GEORGE: Well, no. I think he's talking about balance. He talked about his experience as a Governor and how governors don't like having all these federal and Washington-based edicts put down on them. And so he's talking about that, he's taking that experience plus the fact that he has some learned experienced hands around him. Another point, and I was actually surprised that Bush didn't hit Gore with this, when Gore said, and Gore knows he's vulnerable on the smaller government argument and that's why he said, you know, I've reduced government by 300,000 people or whatever. What he doesn't say is most of those reductions have come from defense, which I think Bush should have reminded people of.

CARLSON: Robert George, Jake Tapper, thanks.

We're going to take a look at the chat room and see the comments that have been floating in there all evening. Let's take a look and see if we have anything on tap. We do. "Gore believes in too much. There is no way to accomplish what he is prescribing for this country. In other words, Gore, the candidate of free ice cream." Did you notice that, Bill?

PRESS: Well, there seemed to be something for everybody. I think that's a legitimate argument and an area tonight where Bush did really clear some points, which is that Gore is throwing so much out there that when you add it all up, it may, I'm just saying it may, I haven't done the arithmetic myself, exceed the amount of money that's available. I think that's a risky area for Al Gore. He's got to be careful about that. It depends, I guess, on who does the arithmetic.

CARLSON: Well, speaking of -- well, George W. Bush often says bad arithmetic is Washington arithmetic, one of the many ways he beat up on Washington, D.C. Let's take a look at another one right here.


BUSH: I'll tell you what I hear. A lot of people are sick and tired of the bitterness in Washington, D.C. and therefore they don't want any part of politics. They look at Washington and see people pointing fingers and casting blame and saying one thing and doing another. There's a lot of young folks saying, you know, why do I want to be involved with this mess?


CARLSON: Now I hate to defend this mess, Bill, but I've lived here almost 10 years, Bush makes Washington sound like Sierra Leone. It's a wonderful place to live. You live here. Will no one stand up for Washington? It's like the one percent, it's very unpopular.

PRESS: I think the running against Washington gets old. I mean Jimmy Carter did it, Bill Clinton did it, now George Bush is doing it. I mean Newt Gingrich did it. I mean come on, you're right, it's a good place and, you know, we are the government in the end.

So just ahead, we'll be right back. Did tonight's debate seal the election for either candidate? Well, we'll get final comments from Michelle and Robert and Jake plus more spin from you and from us, when THE SPIN ROOM continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CARLSON: Welcome back to SPIN ROOM, where we hear what you think about the news of the day and the presidential debates. We hear from you by fax, by phone, probably by telegraph.

PRESS: Everything goes.

CARLSON: Everything goes. And we've been sitting here at CNN in Washington but Jake Tapper and Michelle Cottle have been doing hazardous duty in the moist center of things, in the actual spin room in St. Louis. We want to thank them. Also thank Robert George, who also in an air conditioned studio in New York, but you missed the Yankees game to be here. Thank you.

GEORGE: Good to be here.

PRESS: OK, and Tucker, just before we run out of time, we've got one real quick little bit I think which sort of sums up this debate for me tonight. Here again is Al Gore, very quickly.


GORE: And I'll tell you this, I want to do something about this. Respect the First Amendment, but I will do something to help you raise your kids without that garbage.


PRESS: Now, to me that summed up the entire debate. It was a question, of course, about Hollywood. Al Gore said I'm going to do something and George Bush just sat there and he never said why are you taking so much money from these Hollywood people and then saying you're going to clean them up? You know, you're a hypocrite. Bush didn't say anything. For him, tonight, I think, was an evening of missed -- for Bush -- missed opportunities over and over and over again.

CARLSON: And that is the point of the debate. If I were Bush, I would have said no, pardon me, Al Gore, weren't you at a cocktail party with Jon Bon Jovi the other day sucking up to Hollywood people, to rock stars and scolding none of them about the filth that you purport to hate? I totally agree with you, Bill. He should have just gone for the jugular and he didn't.

PRESS: You would have done that. Bush did not. And also, when Al Gore said that the federal government has gotten smaller and the Texas government has gotten bigger, Bush just sort of sat there. He may have sniffled, but that's, I mean that's about all he did. And I just...

CARLSON: Or sat there and took the campaign finance reform lecture from Al Gore. That's when he should have taken a page from Rick Lazio and said the guy who rents out the Lincoln Bedroom or is affiliated with the administration who does it.

PRESS: Of course he should have. Of course he should have, which is why I think that Gore's performance tonight may energize his campaign and give him enough momentum to tie up these polls and maybe even pull ahead in the next two or three weeks of the campaign.

CARLSON: It's going to take an awful lot, but I agree with you.

PRESS: All right. And that's it. That's it, believe it or not, for this session of the CNN SPIN ROOM. But we'll be back. Just watch for the election edition of THE SPIN ROOM coming your way before you know it. We'll let you know, of course. Thanks again for joining us tonight. Be sure to follow the final weeks of the campaign with your election leader, which, of course, is CNN. And also don't forget to vote on November the 7th.

Good night, everybody. Good night, Tucker.

CARLSON: Good night, Bill.

PRESS: Good night.



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