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Special Event

Did the Third Presidential Debate Change the Minds of Swing Voters?

Aired October 18, 2000 - 1:00 a.m. ET

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

JIM MORET, HOST: Good evening. I'm Jim Moret, reporting from Los Angeles.

It was the final debate. With just three weeks left until election day, voters were given a third chance to see Al Gore and George W. Bush square off face to face.

Tonight's target comprises about one fifth of all registered voters. Most say they favor a certain candidate now but could change their minds before election day. Who are these swing voters? They are disproportionately women. They live in suburbs. Their views are moderate, and they are most independents. But perhaps most important, compared to likely voters, the swing voters say they care most about the issues.

Who did the better job trying to woo these swing voters tonight? Joining us tonight in San Francisco, California Democratic Party chairman Art Torres.

And let's go first to you, Art. Let's get your assessment first of how the candidates did, in your view.

ART TORRES, CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN: I think they did well. I obviously think Al Gore did a lot better, especially better than the second debate, and clearly much better, I think, in terms of defining the differences between himself and Governor Bush.

And I'm concerned when Bush says that -- "trust the people," but he doesn't practice letting the people trust themselves. He doesn't trust women on choice. He doesn't -- he only trusts oil companies, drug companies and insurance companies.

MORET: Art, do you think that in some ways, the vice president went into this debate behind the eight-ball, so to speak?

TORRES: Absolutely. I think that he took the wrong advice in being too restrained in that second debate, and I think that the third debate really showed who he really is. He was in command of the facts. He was in command of the vision for America. And he made very clear just where he stood on the issues of crime, on the issues of tax relief, especially for middle-income families.

And quite frankly, I took a little issue with Governor Bush by saying that the vice president didn't commit to his promise to help middle-income families. Quite frankly, it's been the lowest tax rate for a family of four earning about $54,000 a year in more than 35 years. So I think Clinton-Gore has kept its promises to the American people.

And I think when Vice President Gore said at the end, in his closing remarks, that he was going to keep his promises and keep his word, in 25 years that I've known him, he's done just that.

MORET: Art, we've seen three debates, three different formats. Which one best favored your candidate?

TORRES: I think the -- I think that what best favored my candidate was tonight. I think the town hall and the experience of interaction was very comfortable for the vice president. People don't realize that as a member of Congress and as U.S. senator from Tennessee, he and Tipper would go back regularly to Tennessee to hold town hall meetings across the state. And I think he enjoys that repartee, and I think you saw that today, how comfortable he was in dealing with average Americans of questions that were very, very adroitly put by those people there in Missouri.

MORET: And joining us here in Los Angeles, syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington.

Thanks for joining us tonight.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Thank you.

MORET: You heard the debate. What was your assessment?

HUFFINGTON: My assessment was I can't believe this is our choice. I can't believe that with 260 million Americans, we got to choose between those two guys. It was like a high school debate. There was nothing new. They were just repeating the same, same sound bites we've heard endlessly on the campaign trail. There wasn't a single new question about unaddressed issues -- the failed drug war, two million people in jail, really going into campaign finance reform.

MORET: Well, who do you fault for that? And Art, you jump in here also.

TORRES: Sure.

MORET: Who do you fault for that? Arianna believes, and perhaps rightly so, that we heard the same exact themes. As a matter of fact, when I was listening to the -- to one of the answers, I almost spouted out verbatim what one of the candidates was saying because I knew what phrase was coming next. So Arianna...

TORRES: You know what I think the problem is?

(CROSSTALK)

TORRES: Arianna, I think the problem is we should have had you or another woman as part of the moderator or the questioner. And I was -- I'm bored with Lehrer as the pivotal force here. I can't believe that America, Arianna or somebody like her, a woman especially, wasn't asked to lead one of the debates. And I think if you would have had that, you would have had different types of questions, quite frankly, and that was clearly the case in the second debate. You would have had a different interaction and, quite frankly, a lot more spontaneity on the issues that Arianna spoke about...

HUFFINGTON: But Art...

TORRES: ... which I agree should have been put on the table -- drugs, homeless issue. How to deal with those issues I think would have come from a different perspective.

HUFFINGTON: But Art, the fact that it was Jim Lehrer moderating all three debates was really an indictment on the two-party system because you know better than anyone that this debates commission is really nothing more than a vehicle for the two parties to do whatever they felt would be the best for their candidates, something absolutely...

TORRES: Well, I'm not going to debate about...

HUFFINGTON: ... safe.

TORRES: I'm not going to debate about the presidential commission. I want to debate about why we didn't have a different moderator. And I think we should have had a woman who would have brought, in my opinion, a different perspective, or a person of color. We did with the vice presidential debate. But clearly, I think we needed to have much more of a spontaneity, and I think a woman would have brought that with much more interesting questions than we had with the moderator.

MORET: Let's listen now to a bit of the exchange regarding federal spending. We'll listen to it and talk about it right after this. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM LEHRER, PBS, MODERATOR: Vice President Gore, is the governor right when he says that you're proposing the largest federal spending in years?

GORE: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I'm so glad that I have a chance to knock that down.

Look, the problem is that under Governor Bush's plan -- $1.6 trillion tax cut mostly to the wealthy -- under his own budget numbers, he proposes spending more money for a tax cut just for the wealthiest 1 percent than all of the new money that he budgets for education, health care and national defense combined.

Now, under my plan, we will balance the budget every year. I'm not just saying this. I'm not just talking. I have helped to balance the budget for the first time in 30 years, pay down the debt. LEHRER: Governor, the vice president says you're wrong.

BUSH: Well, he's wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Just add up all the numbers. It's three times bigger than what President Clinton proposed. The Senate Budget Committee...

LEHRER: Three times -- excuse me, three times?

BUSH: Bigger than what President Clinton proposed.

GORE: That's in an ad, Jim, that was knocked down...

BUSH: Wait a minute.

GORE: ... by the journalists who analyzed the ad...

BUSH: May -- may I answer?

GORE: ... and said it was misleading.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORET: Arianna, I mentioned, is a syndicated columnist.

Arianna, I mentioned your column that you filed yesterday. "Downturn? What downturn?" And I bring that up because this tax cut -- and basically all of the numbers that the candidates have been talking about presuppose a great economy and that the last eight years will be duplicated from now on.

HUFFINGTON: Exactly.

MORET: And you find fault in that basic premise.

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. I mean, they're having this whole debate about how to most responsibly spend this incredible surplus that experts are projecting 10 years ahead. And I'm saying it is irresponsible to be having this debate without acknowledging there are far too many indicators that are showing that there is a downturn coming.

We have the stock market. We have the oil crisis. We have inflationary pressures building. We have the possibility of another explosion in the Middle East. All those things are completely ignored. And whenever these questions even are being addressed -- they were not tonight very thoroughly, a little bit in the segment you showed -- the candidates really refuse to deal with it.

And to me, this is such lack of leadership because leadership is about facing possibly unpleasant facts, and that's not happening at all. There is this pretense that everything is going to be great.

And you know what? In 1993, the same experts that they are quoting now predicted that in 2000 we would have a $450 billion deficit. We have over $200 billion in surplus. I think it's going to be the same kind of miscalculations.

MORET: All right, you've been in politics for as long as I can remember, certainly -- what do you think about Arianna suggesting a lack of leadership in not at least addressing...

TORRES: Well, I think...

MORET: ... the possibility...

TORRES: Yeah, but I think what Arianna forgets is it was Vice President Gore who broke the tie in the Senate to get us into a place -- and many Democrats who lost their congressional seats in '94 because they voted for the proposals to balance the budget and -- and clearly, bring down the debt. And I think when you look at all those indicators, it leads to me -- and the arguments that she's laid out leads me to conclude that that's why we shouldn't change the policies that we've had for the last eight years, which have been responsible fiscally, as well as domestically. And I think you don't change the captain of the ship when...

MORET: But Art...

TORRES: ... that ship is rolling along...

HUFFINGTON: But that's not what I'm saying.

TORRES: ... pretty well.

HUFFINGTON: That's not...

MORET: Every one of us -- every one of us that looked at our 401(k) today probably saw a loss of 10 or 15 percent because we're seeing daily these various indicators that Arianna's suggesting. Maybe we should be hearing from the candidates other -- something other than the $1.2 trillion dollars...

TORRES: Well, I think what you...

MORET: ... that we're going to have...

TORRES: But you're also hearing -- but Jim, you're also hearing from the candidates, especially the vice president, that we don't want to put Social Security at total risk by putting even partial amounts of it into the stock market. And I think that's clear when you saw the Nasdaq just come back by 8 percent after last week. There's going to be some indicators that are there, but I think we're also going to see a very vibrant economy growing again, and it's because the foundation was laid by Clinton-Gore to bring us to this point.

MORET: We have a lot more issues to discuss -- specifically, what the candidates had to say about tax cuts and the Middle East right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MORET: You see there the results of the latest "USA Today"/Gallup/CNN poll. "Who did the better job tonight?" Arianna, 46 to 44, very close, still within the margin of error. We're seeing those numbers -- it doesn't matter who's on top because it's within the margin of error. We're seeing that go throughout this election. What do you think this is going to come down to?

HUFFINGTON: Well, I wrote a column three weeks ago saying why George Bush will lose, so I think all these polls and all these debates, in the end, are going to be irrelevant because there is a populist mood in the country, and Al Gore has captured it. Flawed though he is, insufferable though he is, has captured it. So he has basically put Bush on the defensive. Bush is trying to defend a tax cut over a trillion dollars on populist grounds -- you know, representing those middle-class families that are supposedly going to be the beneficiaries of this tax cut when everybody knows that primarily it is going to be that 1 percent that Gore keeps talking about.

MORET: Let's listen now to what the candidates had to say tonight about tax cuts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I'm for getting rid of the death tax, completely getting rid of the death tax. One reason family farmers are forced to sell early is because of the death tax. This is a bad tax. The president shouldn't have vetoed that bill. It's a tax that taxes people twice.

GORE: The problem with completely eliminating it goes back to the wealthiest 1 percent. The amount of money that has to be raised in taxes from middle-class families to make up for completely eliminating that on the very wealthiest, the billionaires, that would -- that would be an extra-heavy burden on middle-class families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORET: Art Torres in San Francisco, you must like the sound of Arianna's column, "Why George Bush Will Lose."

TORRES: I think Arianna is very bright. I think her column has been terrific. But the other -- the other issues, I -- clearly -- we need to make very clear that 98 percent of Americans today just aren't paying this estate tax. Only about 3 percent are. And again, it goes -- and it's consistent with Governor Bush's attitude on protecting the wealthiest Americans. And I think he's been very -- he's not been shy about stating that, and I think we ought to take him at his word that if he would become president, he's going to be the man for the oil companies, the drug companies, the insurance companies and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

HUFFINGTON: But Art, at the same time, you don't seriously believe that the vice president is going to take on the drug companies. If he was going to do it, whey didn't he do it over the last eight years?

TORRES: You know, I love...

HUFFINGTON: He consistently has supported...

TORRES: Arianna, I love this argument, when people say, "Why didn't he do this over the last" -- have we forgotten that the House of Representatives under Newt Gingrich, that the Senate under Tent Lott and Bob Dole before him...

HUFFINGTON: But Art...

TORRES: ... was blocking...

HUFFINGTON: ... I'm not talking about anything...

TORRES: ... were blocking McCain-Feingold, as they're doing today, are blocking the HMO reform, as they're doing today? It's the Republicans who have been in the Congress that haven't allowed a lot of these reforms to become reality.

HUFFINGTON: Art, I'm talking about something very specific. The vice president was in charge of our relations with South Africa when it came to AIDS drugs policy. And he specifically sided with the pharmaceutical industry against importing generic AIDS drugs into South Africa. This is very specific. It had nothing to do with Congress. There is nothing he did over the last eight years that would present him as a champion of the people against powerful pharmaceutical companies. So every time I hear him say that, I think he's a hypocrite. He's insincere. And that's coming across. Because I think...

TORRES: Well, I can't -- I don't...

HUFFINGTON: ... he'll win doesn't mean...

TORRES: ... accept that.

HUFFINGTON: ... I like him.

TORRES: I don't accept that, Arianna. And quite frankly, I think his record as a congressman and a senator clearly is the opposite of that. And quite frankly, he's been at the forefront in terms of supporting generic drug substitutions, especially for our elderly in America.

MORET: Art, just a couple of minutes ago, you suggested that Arianna run for president. I'm just going to keep you honest here.

TORRES: No, I never said that!

(LAUGHTER)

HUFFINGTON: I wasn't born in this country, so...

(CROSSTALK)

TORRES: No, I said she should be the moderator... MORET: The moderator.

TORRES: ... at one of these debates...

MORET: OK.

TORRES: ... because I think she's...

MORET: OK, I stand corrected.

TORRES: ... she's articulate and probably would have had much more interesting questions than Jim Lehrer.

MORET: Let's turn now to international policy, specifically what the candidates had to say about the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: When we say we're somebody's friend, everybody's got to believe it. Israel is our friend, and we'll stand by Israel. We need to reach out to modern Arab nations as well, to build coalitions to keep the peace.

I also need to -- the next leader needs to be patient. We can't put the Middle East peace process on our timetable. It's got to be on the timetable of the people that are trying -- that we're trying to bring to the peace table. We can't dictate the terms of peace, which means that we have to be steady. Can't worry about polls or focus groups. Got to have a clear vision. That's what a leader does.

A leader also understands that the United States must be strong to keep the peace.

GORE: I see a future when the world is at peace, with the United States of America promoting the values of democracy and human rights and freedom all around the world.

Even in Iran, they have had an election that began to bring about some change. We stand for those values, and we have to be willing to assert them. Right now, our military is the strongest in the entire history of the world. I will -- I pledge to you I will do whatever is necessary to make sure that it stays that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORET: Arianna, George W. Bush appeared, on the one hand, to commend President Clinton for his efforts toward peace in the Middle East, and then, on the other hand, to indict him for pushing the U.S. timetable, the U.S. agenda. You can't -- you really can't have it both ways.

HUFFINGTON: No, but that has been the Bush team's position, that Clinton did not have the staying power that leaders should have, that he basically wanted to push it so that he could get the Nobel Peace Prize or whatever his own personal agenda was. And at the same time, whenever I hear Bush on foreign policy, I somehow think that somebody has prepped him, that he's uttering these sometimes sensible comments, but that if you asked the second and the third and the fourth question, he would be at a loss.

And whenever I hear Gore, especially tonight, I'm just so sick of all those visionary statements. "I see a world at peace." "I see a country where every public school is going to be excellent." You know, it's laughable, OK? It's like -- because there are no steps to get us from where we are with all this dysfunction public schools, or all these crises that we are facing in the world, to where he "sees" us being.

MORET: Art, staying on the Middle East, didn't it seem that the vice president had a terrific opportunity, given the events of the past week, to restate or state anew his policy toward the Middle East? And yet there was just this fleeting reference by George W. Bush to the Middle East.

TORRES: I think we have to be very careful where we are talking today. I think, clearly, the president is in Egypt even after the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded. He's there because he knows how important it is.

And as far as for people having a vision for America, people laughed at John F. Kennedy when he said that we would land on the moon. Well, how are you going to get there? John Kennedy had the vision and the perseverance -- "Well, I may not have all the answers today, but I'm going to get us there." And I think that's what Al Gore was talking about. And I don't think it's laughable when someone, a political leader, whether it's George Bush -- in this case, it was the vice president -- has the temerity and the courage to say "We want better schools in America. We want better health care. We want our senior citizens to be safe at home in their Social Security and their drugs."

And we may not have all the answers of how we get there, and maybe we have to sit at the table in a bipartisan way, but if we can get to the moon, we can certainly get to those levels.

MORET: Arianna, in your column following the first debate, you characterized the debates really as an Olympic gymnastics competition. It really felt more like synchronized swimming because they were agreeing on so many things throughout these debates. Is that frustrating to you, as -- as a voter, when you're listening and you're trying to discern the difference between these candidates? Do you think tonight we heard more of a difference?

HUFFINGTON: Well, tonight they made a very specific point of stressing the differences, of actually saying "I disagree," you know, "I think differently." But beyond that, the reason why I said that about the gymnastics performances was because there was really no wisdom or leadership exemplified either in the first debate, the second or tonight.

And so therefore you end up kind of taking little points for sighs or giving small points for good performance instead of looking for one inspiring line, just -- there wasn't one memorable line tonight, one line that would kind of uplift us, even for their closing statements. Now, the closing statements they didn't have to think up for themselves. You know, somebody wrote for them. They memorized them. They could have bought an inspiring line. Why didn't they?

MORET: Art?

HUFFINGTON: Art, why didn't they?

TORRES: I thought the vice president had an inspiring line, "I'm going to keep my word to you. I'm going to keep my promise to you, America. In all that I have"...

HUFFINGTON: Sounds like my 9-year-old.

TORRES: ... "talked about this evening, I'm going to keep my word." And quite frankly, I'd rather trust his word than George Bush, who doesn't trust you, as a woman, on what to do with your body.

HUFFINGTON: That's not a memorable line, with the greatest respect, nor is it "I'm going to fight for you," nor is it George Bush's "I want you on my team." You know, memorable lines are "Ask not what your country can do for you."

TORRES: Well, that was done...

HUFFINGTON: "Ask what you can do for your country."

TORRES: ... at an inauguration, Arianna, not in a debate. I think...

MORET: I have...

TORRES: ... a memorable...

MORET: I have a memorable line I have to throw in here.

We'll be back right after this. We're going to talk about education coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORET: Again, a breakdown following the third debate of how the voters or those surveyed thought that Vice President Al Gore and George W. Bush did in tonight's debate.

Now let's listen to what the candidates had to say about the issue of education.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: Governor Bush is for vouchers. And in his plan, he proposes to drain more money, more taxpayer money, out of the public schools for private school vouchers than all of the money that he proposes in his entire budget for public schools themselves. And only one in 20 students would be eligible for these vouchers, and they wouldn't even pay the full tuition to private school.

I think that's a mistake. I don't think we should give up on the private schools and leave kids trapped in failing schools. I think we should make it the number one priority.

BUSH: vouchers are up to states. If you want to do a voucher program in Missouri, fine. See, I strongly believe in local control of schools. I'm a governor of a state, and I don't like it when the federal government tell us what to do. I believe in local control of schools.

But here's what I've said. I've said to the extent we spend federal money on disadvantaged children, we want the schools to show us whether or not the children are learning. What's unreasonable about that? We expect there to be standards met, and we expect there to be measurement. And if we find success, we'll praise it.

But when we find children trapped in schools that will not change and will not teach, instead of saying, "Oh, this is OK in America, just to shuffle poor kids through schools," there has to be a consequence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORET: Art Torres, hot-button issue, vouchers, here in California. Who is the audience, though, for this?

TORRES: I think the audience are parents who are concerned about the investment that we're making in public schools and the danger that a voucher system has. Here we're voting no against Proposition 38. But clearly, the impact that it has -- and quite frankly, it goes back to the truth barometer here.

In Texas, the charter schools are almost 22 points lower in their scores than the public -- in addition to the public schools in Texas, and 59 percent of the kids in the SAT department in Texas are near the -- near the bottom. So if the governor really is concerned about education and even looking at charter schools as an in-between point between vouchers and public schools, even the charter schools aren't working in Texas.

You got to look back and he's got to look back at that and not even get to the point of talking about vouchers when he can't even deal with the charter schools, which have been experimental, for the most part, in this state, and have done well here in California, but in Texas, 22 points lower. These students are really not being given the best that they deserve.

HUFFINGTON: Art, the truth is that over 70 percent of African- Americans are supporting vouchers today. You talk to minority parents, you talk to poor parents whose kids are trapped in dysfunctional public schools, and they want their kids out of there as fast as possible. They don't want to wait until we fix the public education system because we've been trying to do that. The vice president has been talking about it for years and years, and so have members from the other party. The truth is that anybody who can afford to get their kid out of a dysfunctional public school is doing so, and that includes the vice president, whose kids did not go to public school. So right now, if vouchers, targeted vouchers for inner-city kids work, why not try them? In fact, I fault Governor Bush for not even daring to really say that that works. Did you notice what he said?

TORRES: Well, because -- because...

HUFFINGTON: He said "I'm in favor of"...

TORRES: ... his own charter...

HUFFINGTON: ... "local control."

TORRES: But Arianna, his own charter schools aren't working, according to the "Dallas Daily Morning News"...

HUFFINGTON: Are your public schools...

TORRES: ... on August 30th of this year.

HUFFINGTON: ... working, Art?

TORRES: Their charter schools...

HUFFINGTON: Art, are your...

TORRES: ... aren't working.

HUFFINGTON: Are your public schools working?

TORRES: Our public schools are working, for the most part, and I think the more...

HUFFINGTON: For the most part?

TORRES: ... we invest in them, the better. As a co-author of the charter school reform here in California, I think charter schools are working here because you have the support of parents and teachers and other folks. SP65, which I wrote here to prevent drop-outs in California, is working because you allow parents and teachers and principals and community leaders to get to the issue of dropping out of high school. So the more...

HUFFINGTON: But the bottom line...

TORRES: ... creativity -- the more -- the bottom line is that if we abandon our public schools today, we're abandoning public education for a lot more than just...

HUFFINGTON: I'm not suggesting...

TORRES: ... a few people.

HUFFINGTON: I'm not suggesting abandoning public schools. I'm suggesting not abandoning children. And over 60 percent of kids leaving 4th grade today in inner cities cannot read. That's a major, major indictment of the current system.

MORET: And we're going to...

TORRES: There's no question...

MORET: ... take one more break. Art...

TORRES: ... that the current system needs...

MORET: Art, I have to just...

TORRES: ... improvement, but vouchers...

MORET: ... jump in here...

TORRES: ... do not improve it.

MORET: I just have to jump in. We're going to take a break and talk about the issue of guns right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: ... strongly that we need to enforce laws on the books.

GORE: I think that some common-sense gun safety measures are certainly needed with the flood of cheap handguns that have sometimes been working their way into the hands of the wrong people. But all of my proposals are focused on that problem, gun safety. None of my proposals would have any effect on hunters or sportsmen or people who use rifles.

They're aimed at the real problem. Let's make our schools safe. Let's make our neighborhoods safe. Let's have a three-day waiting period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORET: Art Torres, the vice president says he and Governor Bush differ on this issue. Do you think he got that point across?

TORRES: I hope so because people forget that in 1999, Governor Bush refused to back instant background checks. He may say he's for them today, but in '99 he refused to back the bill. You still have a gun show loophole in Texas. You have concealed weapons allowed in churches, if you check ahead of time. And quite frankly, there's been over 3,000 arrests of ex-felons who have concealed weapons under the Texas law that haven't been enforced. Twenty-seven of them were accused of murder in that instance. So you got a real problem with what he says he wants to do and what's really happening in Texas and what actions he didn't take to reinstate instant background checks in 1999. HUFFINGTON: Art, that would have been a really good answer for the vice president. It's a pity he didn't give it. His answer was a real disaster. I mean, it basically, as Jim said, showed no real distinction between their positions. This is a position on which the majority of Americans agree with the vice president. In fact, he went on about hunters, and he sounded like a Second Amendment guy. And...

TORRES: Well, I think -- I think he wanted to distinguish himself somewhat, but at the same time, he didn't want to repeat himself and the fact that he supports...

HUFFINGTON: Oh, come on.

TORRES: ... the Brady Bill and...

HUFFINGTON: He just wanted to...

TORRES: ... Governor Bush doesn't. He supports instant registration. The governor doesn't. He supports background checks. Bush doesn't. So I guess...

HUFFINGTON: Oh, don't tell me he didn't want to repeat himself. Come on! He repeated himself on everything else. He just was going for the center again. He didn't want to alienate anybody. He wanted to make sure that if there are any Second Amendment hunters out there...

TORRES: Well, he's -- he's...

HUFFINGTON: ... undecided, they would vote for him.

TORRES: Arianna, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

HUFFINGTON: ... and completely lack of leadership...

TORRES: Arianna, I don't think...

HUFFINGTON: ... Art. That's the problem.

TORRES: ... Bush or Gore want to alienate good-standing sportsmen and women. I think what he wanted to say was "We're not going to take away your sports ability, but we are going to go after those handgun owners and those assault weapons." And thank God we had Dianne Feinstein here in California that started the fight a long time ago.

MORET: And we are, at that note, going to say good-bye to Arianna Huffington and Art Torres. Thank you both for being here.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you.

TORRES: Thank you.

MORET: Stay with us. If you thought that debate... TORRES: Good seeing you, Arianna.

MORET: If you thought that...

HUFFINGTON: You, too.

MORET: ... debate was feisty, wait'll you hear our next two guests. Some serious sparring with some comic relief coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORET: And joining me here in Los Angeles, comedian and writer Elayne Boosler and actor and writer Ben Stein, who hosts Comedy Central's "Win Ben Stein's Money."

ELAYNE BOOSLER, COMEDIAN: Yay!

MORET: That last poll, "Who was more likable?" Sixty percent for Bush, thirty-one percent for Gore. And as we leave you with those figures, why don't you each tell us your assessment overall of this third debate.

Elayne?

BOOSLER: Well -- thank you very much. I thought Gore pitched incredibly on six days' rest. And the Mets are in the World Series! Yes! And I've been very, as you know, partisan towards the vice president, but Governor Bush said something so interesting tonight that it called me to arms, and I took -- I did it. And this is not to be facetious. He said -- and you can pull up the quote and show it. He said, quote, "There's a record. That's what I hope people will look at," his record. And that's the most important thing because anyone can promise you anything.

I downloaded the record before I came over here. You mentioned the undecided swing voters are suburban women? Texas is 50th in teacher salaries and benefits.

BEN STEIN, COMEDIAN: This is a document that comes from the National Education Association. They've been circulating it all over the Web.

MORET: Well, wait, wait, wait. Let her...

STEIN: Just one...

MORET: Wait. Let her just finish. And I'll let you -- I'll let you get in, Ben.

OK, but...

BOOSLER: Hi, Ben!

MORET: But Elayne, you can't...

BOOSLER: Of course. MORET: You agree.

BOOSLER: Forty-seventh in delivery of...

MORET: OK.

BOOSLER: ... social services.

MORET: OK.

BOOSLER: I also think a man who claims to care about children has no health care for children. It's very important...

STEIN: That's a lie.

BOOSLER: ... to point out -- may I point out, and tell me if this is true or not, that the supposed "patients' bill of rights" and Child Welfare Act in Texas that he keeps flaunting in the debate that he's so proud of...

MORET: Wait. Let's...

BOOSLER: ... stands as law without his signature because he vetoed it, and it stands as law...

MORET: And let's give Ben...

BOOSLER: ... unsigned.

MORET: ... a chance. Let's take it issue by issue. First, Ben, overall, your assessment, and then you can...

STEIN: Well, my dog doesn't like Al Gore.

MORET: And you wanted to bring your dog...

STEIN: My dog, Bridget (ph), is a German...

MORET: ... up here, and the building...

STEIN: ... short-haired...

MORET: ... has a policy...

STEIN: I know.

MORET: I told you.

STEIN: My dog, Bridget, is a very good dog, does not like Al Gore. She's scared of him because he stomps all around the stage like Frankenstein's monster in clothes that are too small for him without much spinal movement.

MORET: But you're talking about...

BOOSLER: See? Republicans never deal with the issues, ever! STEIN: ... and he's scary -- and he's scary and he's rude and he interrupts and he doesn't play well with others and he's emotionally immature and he walks over like a thug in a -- no, the truth is, this document that Elayne is so kindly reading from was circulated on the Web, as I understand it, by the National Education Association.

BOOSLER: They don't know anything.

STEIN: I have no idea if any of these facts are true. What we do know is that Texas is the fastest-growing large state in the union, growing twice as fast as the national average. Its state -- its average state income is growing stupendously quickly. People are moving in like mad. Obviously, there's something good about it. There's something scary about Al Gore. He's genuinely frightening to me. I really applaud a lot of the Democrats in this country. They're tremendously smart, hard-working people. But Al Gore is scary.

MORET: Let's listen -- you both have a vested interest, obviously, in the entertainment industry. Let's listen to what the candidates had to say about the entertainment industry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I don't support censorship. But I do believe that we ought to talk plainly to the Hollywood moguls and people who produce this stuff, and explain the consequences. I think we need to have rating systems that are clear. And I happen to like the idea of having technology for the TV, easy for parents to use, so you can tune out these programs that you don't want in your house.

But I'm going to remind mothers and dads the best weapon is the off-on button.

GORE: And recently the Federal Trade Commission pointed out that some of these entertainment companies have warned parents that the material is inappropriate for children, and then they turned around behind the backs of the parents and advertised that same adult material directly to children. That is an outrage.

Joe Lieberman and I gave them six months to clean up their act. And if they don't do it, we're going to ask for tougher authority in the hands of the FTC on the false and deceptive advertising.

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORET: Ben, some tough talk, and it did sound, though, on first blush that the governor was not aware of the V-chip technology from listening to...

STEIN: No, no. Of course he's aware of it. He's very well aware of it. He's talking...

MORET: Well, what...

STEIN: He's talking -- he talked about it in the first debate.

MORET: What do you make, though, of this -- of this particular issue?

STEIN: Well, I make two things of Mr. Gore. One is he takes a huge amount of money from the Hollywood moguls. They are the second biggest supporter of the Gore campaign. So for him to criticize them on TV while putting his hand out for their tens of millions is a bad joke.

The second thing is, it scares me that he says "We're going to do something about it." Censorship is a terrible, bad, awful idea. And it scares me for him to be threatening Hollywood. I don't think Hollywood deserves to be threatened.

BOOSLER: He didn't threaten Hollywood, and...

STEIN: Well, no, he...

BOOSLER: ... Bush says the same thing.

STEIN: But he -- no, he did not say the same thing.

MORET: But he did say -- the vice president did say, "We've given them six months or else," so to speak.

BOOSLER: Well, all he said that he's going to do is make them watch their own movies, and that should take care of it.

(LAUGHTER)

STEIN: Now, that would be true cool!

BOOSLER: That would be...

STEIN: That's -- that violates the...

BOOSLER: ... cruel and unusual punishment.

STEIN: ... the constitutional ban...

BOOSLER: They'd think they were in Texas then!

STEIN: ... on cruel and unusual punishment.

MORET: Elayne, there was a -- there was a dance, if you will, that the vice president did...

BOOSLER: I wish he had been...

MORET: ... between censorship, First Amendment and then "Do this or else."

BOOSLER: Yes, but you know, once again, it deflects the true issue of violence in America and children. And I will tell you something. Movies don't kill people, guns kill people.

STEIN: Well, wait a second. Last time I was on, in this very studio -- or actually, down the hall from you -- you said the same thing about guns killing people, and you said there are 40,000 gun deaths, accidental gun deaths, in the last 20 years. I looked that up right after I got home. Your figure is wrong by a factor of 30!

BOOSLER: I don't think that's correct.

STEIN: Even -- yes, it is correct. Even one is too many, but it's questionable -- it's hard to argue with you when you have data like that.

BOOSLER: Well...

STEIN: If you could have some real data...

BOOSLER: Here's some real data.

STEIN: ... it would be a lot better.

BOOSLER: The Violence Policy Center, which is unimpeachable, out of Washington...

STEIN: I never...

BOOSLER: ... and you may have...

STEIN: Wait a minute. Unimpeachable? I never even heard...

BOOSLER: Unimpeachable.

STEIN: ... of it!

BOOSLER: They don't lobby.

STEIN: Wait a second. Do you...

BOOSLER: They're not partisan.

STEIN: They're non -- they're not...

BOOSLER: They don't lobby!

STEIN: They don't lobby...

BOOSLER: They research...

STEIN: Where do you think this came from?

BOOSLER: This comes from independent contributions for research...

STEIN: Wait a second.

BOOSLER: ... for... STEIN: The anti-gun lobby is one of the most partisan, pro- Democratic lobbies in America.

BOOSLER: And since you pointed out Gore's -- George Bush's biggest contributor -- I mean, Al Gore's biggest contributor, which is the entertainment industry...

STEIN: The second biggest. Second biggest.

BOOSLER: ... let's say that -- and George Bush's is the oil companies, tobacco -- where's that going? -- and guns.

STEIN: Wait a minute! Wait a minute!

BOOSLER: Guns!

STEIN: Wait a minute! Clinton...

BOOSLER: The National Rifle Association...

STEIN: Gore has gotten far more money in his career from the tobacco industry...

BOOSLER: Fine!

STEIN: ... than Bush. It's not even...

BOOSLER: That's not true.

STEIN: ... close!

BOOSLER: He's gotten $12,000...

STEIN: Oh, that's not even close to the truth!

BOOSLER: Well, if he's just going to call everything a lie, it's impossible. May I finish the point you asked me about, though?

MORET: Very briefly, and then we're going to go to another...

BOOSLER: Very briefly, movies don't kill people, guns kill people. George Bush is in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. Since he passed his concealed weapons law, 66 percent of those people have been arrested on...

STEIN: That is completely made up!

BOOSLER: Well, bring your own faxes.

STEIN: That's a completely made-up piece!

BOOSLER: That's not true.

STEIN: That is a completely made-up data!

BOOSLER: No, it isn't. STEIN: They found that there were...

BOOSLER: It's not.

STEIN: ... 66 people!

BOOSLER: This is CNN. They'll look it up while we take a break.

STEIN: Wait a minute. There are 66 people who had...

BOOSLER: I thought even one was too much.

STEIN: ... who had not passed -- who had not passed the gun checks, and their licenses were revoked.

BOOSLER: Twenty-three Texas...

STEIN: Sixty-six percent is...

BOOSLER: No.

STEIN: ... a totally made-up number!

BOOSLER: Twenty-three Texas concealed gun weapon holders have been arrested for murder.

STEIN: Well, that's not the same as -- wait a second!

MORET: Wait. Let me...

STEIN: That's not the same as 66 percent!

MORET: Let me throw a flag in here and let's...

BOOSLER: Sixty-six percent...

MORET: ... shift to -- you're not passionate enough.

BOOSLER: ... higher than that of the general population.

MORET: Elayne, let's shift to what the candidates had to say about health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I will make a commitment to bring health care coverage of high quality that is affordable to every single child in America within four years. And then we'll fill other gaps by covering the parents of those children when the family is poor or up to two and a half times the poverty rate.

I want to give a tax credit for the purchase of individual health insurance plans. I want to give small business employers a tax credit, 25 percent, to encourage the providing of health insurance for the employees in small businesses. I want to give seniors who are -- well, the "near-elderly." I don't like that term because I am just about in that category. But those 55 to 65 ought to be able to buy into Medicare for premiums that are reasonable and fair and significantly below what they have to get now.

, we have a big difference on this. And you need to know the record here. Under Governor Bush, Texas has sunk to be 50th out of 50 in health care -- in health insurance for their citizens.

BUSH: I'm absolutely opposed to a national health care plan. I don't want the federal government making decisions for consumers or for providers.

I remember what the administration tried to do in 1993. They tried to have a national health care plan, and fortunately it failed. I trust people. I don't trust the federal government. It's going to be one of the themes you'll hear tonight. I don't want the federal government making decisions on behalf of everybody.

There is an issue with the uninsured. There sure is. And we've got uninsured people in my state. Ours is a big state, a fast-growing state. We share a common border with another nation. But we're providing health care for our people.

One thing about insurance -- that's a Washington term. The question is, are people getting health care? And we've got a strong safety net.

And there needs to be a safety net in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORET: Ben Stein, you're passionate about this particular issue, the health care issue. You...

STEIN: Oh, I don't think I'm passionate about it, but...

MORET: Well, you're both passionate about a number of things.

BOOSLER: Never call him passionate. He doesn't want to be called -- you're ruining his image! He's Ben Stein. He's -- he's cool.

MORET: He's very...

STEIN: What is the question?

BOOSLER: Oh, that!

(LAUGHTER)

MORET: Talk about the differences...

BOOSLER: Oh, that!

MORET: ... that voters might have seen from tonight's debate on the issue of health care. STEIN: Well, I think Mr. Gore came out unequivocally for socialized medicine, although phasing it in gradually. The American health care system is the best health care system in the world because it is private and profit-motivated. And he wants to wreck it. It's that simple, and it's kind of terrifying. We have a system at present where the very poorest are not getting good health care.

BOOSLER: Especially in Texas.

STEIN: That's a...

BOOSLER: They're 49th in children's insurance.

STEIN: Well, that's a totally made-up data.

BOOSLER: Everything's made up!

STEIN: Wait a second.

BOOSLER: Let's throw the Internet away! It's all fake!

STEIN: Well, the Internet...

BOOSLER: And all the downloads and all the...

STEIN: Well, wait a second. The Internet has about 50,000...

BOOSLER: This is from newspaper articles!

STEIN: ... sites -- the Internet has about 50,000 sites denying the Holocaust. Anyone can put any garbage on the Internet.

BOOSLER: Yes, they can, but these are facts.

STEIN: And if you look -- well -- well -- because you're holding them in your hand.

BOOSLER: No, not at all, because I...

STEIN: I mean, you're...

BOOSLER: ... got them from three different newspapers...

STEIN: Oh, please! Look...

BOOSLER: ... and stump speeches.

STEIN: Look, wait a second. Look -- look, Texas -- this law -- there's a lawsuit about...

BOOSLER: Where is Texas in health care for children?

STEIN: Wait a minute. There is a law...

BOOSLER: Where is it? Where is it?

STEIN: You don't know!

BOOSLER: Do you know?

STEIN: I don't think, but what I know is...

BOOSLER: He's telling me I'm wrong...

STEIN: ... an awful lot of people...

BOOSLER: ... but he doesn't know!

STEIN: Well, an awful lot of people are moving there and are very happy there! Now, there's a -- there was a lawsuit...

BOOSLER: There you go!

STEIN: There was a lawsuit about children's health care in Texas. The lawsuit was about events that happened while Ann Richards was governor, not even about what happened when Bush was governor!

BOOSLER: What's that to do with it?

STEIN: The Democrats are making tremendous hay out of it! The thing...

BOOSLER: First I've heard.

STEIN: Things have improved greatly while Bush was governor, but the Democrats keep citing this lawsuit about events when a Democrat was governor.

BOOSLER: I don't even think we've heard anything about a lawsuit.

STEIN: No, no. They...

BOOSLER: He's talking about...

(CROSSTALK)

MORET: Why don't you talk about health care.

BOOSLER: I think that the most important thing about health care is a person having control of her life. And I think for any undecided woman suburban voter out there, this George Bush is completely against you controlling your reproductive system.

STEIN: Well, that means...

BOOSLER: He'll get rid of RU-486, and he will overturn choice...

STEIN: Well, that...

BOOSLER: ... and you need to know that...

STEIN: Well... BOOSLER: ... and you need to vote.

STEIN: Well, it's not about choice. No one has a choice to kill an innocent child.

BOOSLER: Well, this will never be resolved.

STEIN: And George Bush...

BOOSLER: Certainly not...

STEIN: And George Bush...

BOOSLER: ... between us.

STEIN: And George Bush is against the killing of the innocent.

BOOSLER: And how many adopted children does he have in his home?

STEIN: I don't know, but I have one, and he's the light of my life.

BOOSLER: That's so wonderful.

STEIN: And I do think it is...

BOOSLER: And God bless you.

STEIN: And I think...

BOOSLER: But it's none of your business, and it's not the government's business.

STEIN: Oh, yes, it is! It's the government's business...

BOOSLER: Absolutely not!

STEIN: ... to protect innocent life.

BOOSLER: You stay out of my bedroom!

STEIN: It's not your bedroom. You can...

BOOSLER: Absolutely.

STEIN: ... do anything you want in your bedroom...

MORET: See, now, this debate...

STEIN: ... and I hope you do...

MORET: ... is much livelier...

STEIN: ... but it's not about killing...

MORET: ... than the presidential debate. We're going to be back with more of this debate...

BOOSLER: Because it's you and not Jim Lehrer!

MORET: ... right after this.

BOOSLER: That's why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORET: Elayne Boosler, you are...

BOOSLER: Yes, sir?

MORET: ... causing Ben Stein to turn to sugar now as his only -- as his only defense.

BOOSLER: Make him an honorary woman.

MORET: Read -- read this one...

BOOSLER: You know what I thought was...

MORET: ... definition...

BOOSLER: ... interesting...

MORET: ... and then I'm going to throw to something that the candidates said tonight.

BOOSLER: OK. I thought that it was interesting that Bush constantly said "You're attacking me," and so I said, "This is a debate. Does he not know this?" And I looked it up in the dictionary, not the Internet, you'll be very happy.

STEIN: Which dictionary?

BOOSLER: The Internet dictionary. No, the...

STEIN: The dictionary...

BOOSLER: ... Webster -- the Ben Stein...

STEIN: The National Education Association...

BOOSLER: Your dog actually gave me the dictionary.

STEIN: ... dictionary. Well, my dog does not like...

BOOSLER: He read it to me, so...

STEIN: ... Al Gore.

BOOSLER: Well, your dog loves Merriam-Webster.

MORET: Read -- read the definition.

BOOSLER: Listen to this. "Debate: to engage in conflict or strife, a fight, to contend in words, dispute."

MORET: OK, now -- now...

BOOSLER: So a good debate...

MORET: Now...

BOOSLER: ... is a debate.

MORET: And debates have rules...

STEIN: What's the point?

MORET: ... rules of engagement. Let's listen to these rules and see if they were violated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: He said if affirmative action means quotas, he's against it. Affirmative action doesn't mean quotas.

BUSH: Good.

GORE: 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, is this...

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

(LAUGHTER)

GORE: I think that speaks for itself.

BUSH: No. Doesn't speak for itself, Mr. Vice President. It speaks for the fact that there are certain rules in this that we all agreed to, but evidently rules don't mean anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORET: There were, in fact, certain rules that the candidates had agreed to prior to these debates. And in this little instance, you saw George Bush turn to Jim Lehrer and say, "He's not following"...

BOOSLER: Yes, they were Bush's rules.

STEIN: I mean, this is the -- this is the perfect example. Al Gore does not believe in law or rules.

BOOSLER: Oh, please! STEIN: Al Gore, like Bill Clinton, believes law is for somebody else. He's a thug. He's a thug.

BOOSLER: You're going to get sued for slander if you keep...

STEIN: He's a combination of...

BOOSLER: ... calling him a thug with no facts.

STEIN: He's a combination of a little old lady and a thug.

MORET: You're talking about the vice president?

STEIN: But I like little old -- you bet.

MORET: OK.

STEIN: Thug.

BOOSLER: Can I just say that every time I've had a fight with a Republican -- pardon the expression -- I, you know, kind of prepare to learn about the issues because I care enough...

STEIN: Well, wait. You mean -- you mean...

BOOSLER: ... to vote...

STEIN: Because it's well known that Ben Stein doesn't know anything.

BOOSLER: No! You're holding back.

STEIN: Right. Ben Stein doesn't know anything, and that's...

BOOSLER: But you're -- you're not even arguing...

STEIN: Everyone who watches TV knows that.

BOOSLER: Is that true that you don't?

STEIN: I win all those shows just by luck.

BOOSLER: Well, but what I'm saying is you're not -- you're not saying anything that would help someone decide...

STEIN: You are just taking...

BOOSLER: ... who to vote for.

STEIN: You're taking...

BOOSLER: You're calling...

STEIN: ... data from...

BOOSLER: Let me finish. You're calling... STEIN: ... anti-Bush Web sites!

BOOSLER: I'm not using any data.

STEIN: I saw him on TV tonight. He's a menacing thug!

BOOSLER: Well, then you are a very sensitive human being, and I pray to God...

STEIN: No, that's true.

BOOSLER: ... your bodyguards sleep with you, even, because...

STEIN: My dog...

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: My dog sleeps with me, and she does not like Al Gore.

MORET: Talk about the exchange, though. I mean, the point is...

BOOSLER: I'll be you have to have a pork chop laying on your neck.

MORET: The point is that there are rules, and the point is also, though, that voters...

BOOSLER: There are rules.

MORET: ... want to hear the differences...

BOOSLER: These rules were insisted upon by the Bush side before he'd even deign to debate the vice president. They set them up at such a disadvantage to an intelligent person.

STEIN: No, they set them up at a disadvantage to a thug!

BOOSLER: He's not a thug. And I hope he sues you for that because -- based on what?

MORET: In our remaining time, let me give you each an opportunity to give your assessment of, if you will, of all of the debates. You have 30 seconds each. It's going to be tough to keep you to that, but we have to.

Elayne, first to you.

BOOSLER: Sure. I think that what you've heard from the other -- from the George Bush is slander and nothing based on anything. If you're an undecided woman and you care about your child and education and your own health and control -- because choice isn't just about your body. It's putting you back to being a second-class citizen who doesn't have all the rights.

Texas is also very low down -- I don't know which statistic it is, but very, very last in collecting money from deadbeat fathers because, simply, George Bush does not care about women, which means he doesn't care about your child.

MORET: Thirty seconds, Ben. Not to you.

STEIN: Well, first...

MORET: You get the final word.

STEIN: ... those are completely made-up data, completely made up in substance.

BOOSLER: (INAUDIBLE) data.

STEIN: The American people saw on TV tonight that Al Gore's an out-of-control bully thug who doesn't believe in following the rules. George Bush is an honest, decent man. He's a Yale graduate, Harvard graduate, very successful businessman, very successful governor of the second biggest state in America. No one has ever had a tough of unethical behavior charged against him. He never has had any unethical behavior charged against him. He's a decent, honest man.

MORET: Ben Stein, you got the last word. Elayne Boosler -- thank you both for joining us tonight.

Just three weeks till election day. CNN will, of course, be here every step of the way, bringing you the latest from the campaign trail and where the candidates stand on the issues important to you.

I'm Jim Moret, reporting from Los Angeles.

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