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Pre-Debate Analysis

Aired October 5, 2004 - 20:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Only four weeks to go to the election. It's a precious day. In fact, every day will be precious for both campaigns tonight, especially -- especially so. We're waiting. We're watching. We're getting ready for the vice presidential debate.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's coverage of the vice presidential debate.

BLITZER: They say the vice presidential debates don't really matter, but we're not hearing that tonight. In the wake of the strong debate performance last week by Senator John Kerry, polls now say the race is a dead heat. Both sides clearly anxious to know whether tonight's 90-minute debate will alter the race once again.

Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with my colleagues, Jeff Greenfield, Carlos Watson and the entire CNN team. Thanks very much for joining us.

We're at the Cleveland Museum of Art near Case Western Reserve University, and there's something totally fitting about this setting. Ohio is as key a state in this election as any. George W. Bush barely won it in 2000 after the Gore campaign simply walked away from Ohio, a decision that may have cost him the White House.

How badly do the campaigns want this state this time around? President Bush has been here to this state 27 times. Senator Kerry has been here 19 times. So tonight, no hype necessary at all. Another potentially pivotal moment in a pivotal state.

Jeff Greenfield, what do you make of all this?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: I think what we're going to see is perhaps the most interesting of the four debates. You've got two completely polar opposites. Dick Cheney, charismatically challenged, as he's sometimes joked. The most powerful vice president probably in American history facing a man who is on this ticket because of his charm and appeal, but a man whose foreign policy and national security credentials the Republicans are tending to doubt. And both sides here think that this debate uniquely among vice presidential debates may have a chance to turn this campaign that has already taken two or three turns just in the last month -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A pivotal night perhaps?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think so, Wolf, and actually on several levels. First and foremost, as Jeff said, this could set the table, if you will, for the next debate which comes up on Friday. Number two, you can get new issues. We may hear about stem cell research, we may hear about importing drugs from Canada.

Also, don't just think about the national polls maybe moving one or two points. Think about polls in Ohio. As you said, critical battleground, whether or not polls here we move. So I think it's important on lots of different levels.

BLITZER: On many of these occasions, Jeff, we always ask you to set some questions out there. You have a few questions tonight?

GREENFIELD: I do, and I think these are the ones that I'm going to be looking for tonight. First, who does Cheney attack? Who is his target? The temptation will be to go after John Edwards as an inexperienced person, unequipped to deal with foreign policy, but it's pretty clear the Bush campaign wants Cheney to go after Kerry and help stir up the doubts that Kerry helped ease a bit in his first debate.

Second obvious question, who is Edwards' target? Dick Cheney is one of the least popular members of this administration, but John Edwards may have the job here of pointing to George W. Bush and saying, that steady leader that you think is there is not, and here's why.

Third, and this is going to, I think, going to dominate every debate from here on in. Does the war in Iraq equal the war on terror? It will be Cheney's job to say that war was a critically necessary part of the war on terror; it will be John Edwards' job to say no, it was a costly diversion.

And finally, does it matter? Traditionally, historically, vice presidential debates have not changed the equation of who wins a presidential contest. And this one, look, we're going to have to wait 48 hours or so to see whether once again these numbers take an unexpected turn.

BLITZER: And now, Carlos, arguably, if it's a very close race, as this one is shaping up to be, everything matters?

WATSON: Every point could matter. Wolf, I think there are couple of other things that you should think about tonight. I think the moderator is going to be extraordinarily important. I told you before, I think you could have some of the spiciest questions, but I also think the moderator, Gwen Ifill, could raise some new issues that you may not hear elsewhere. The Supreme Court and who either side will ultimately appoint. And you'll hear more about maybe tax fairness. And I wouldn't be surprised to hear her raise a question about the issue of race, and race relations. We're here in Cuyahoga County, one of the largest African-American populations in the country, I think it's 14th or 15th. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that.

The other thing, Wolf, I'm looking for, will anybody break the rules? Remember, with John Kerry and the president, neither asked questions, which they're not supposed to do. But we've got two guys who are sitting as close as Jeff and I are sitting, will someone actually finally turn to the other guy and say, you know what, I know what the rules are, but I have got a question for you and I'm going to ask it. I'd watch out for that.

BLITZER: I suspect they will break those rules. We'll see what happens. There is only one vice presidential debate, so it they break the rules, so what, who cares?

WATSON: What are you going to do?

BLITZER: Let's bring in some of our correspondents. Candy Crowley, John King are standing by. They've been talking to both sides. Candy, first to you. What are you hearing?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a debate where they clearly, I think as Jeff pointed out, are going to want to look at not really at Dick Cheney, but, in fact, at John Kerry -- in fact, at President Bush. They want to tie Dick Cheney as closely as they can to this administration. They said, look, his experience, all of that, works in their favor. That they can say, sure, it's experience. But look at the experience, look at the last four years, in a sort of a direct assault on the Bush administration.

They also think that they will be able to portray Dick Cheney as the old ways, or as John Kerry would like to say, more of the same, and John Edwards as the new face, and that is the face of change.

So that's what they're looking to do tonight. They also know that there's a threshold that they have to pass, and that is for voters to be able to see John Edwards as a man who could take over the presidency if needed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much. John King, you're about as plugged in as any reporter is. What are you hearing?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the thing the Bush campaign worries about most coming out of the first debate is the question Jeff raised about, does Iraq equal the war on terrorism? Republicans and even close Bush aides will concede the president did not do a good job answering that question and keeping that linkage intact in the first debate. That is the vice president's biggest challenge tonight, and he will make it by saying even as we learn of a new CIA report due out publicly tomorrow and in the next few days that says there are no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, what he will say is at the time, the president believed that intelligence when it said there were stockpiles. The vice president believed it, Senator Edwards believed it, Senator Kerry believed it, France believed it, many others believed it.

And at that point, in the post-9/11 world, the president made the right decision. The vice president will say, then you react, when you learn new information you react and adjust. But his biggest mission tonight, Wolf, is to convince the American people that the war in Iraq was right. When the president made it, he did it based on the best information available, and that it is crucial to the war on terrorism. That is the argument the Democrats have had the upper hand in, at least in the past week or two. The vice president's mission tonight is to get it back in the Bush campaign.

BLITZER: John King, thanks very much. We're standing by, lots more going on in advance of this debate, starting at the top of the hour. Our Judy Woodruff is standing by to explain the rules. What are the rules of the game tonight? Bill Schneider has a fact check. He's getting ready for that. Bill Hemmer is at Ohio State University with a focus group, undecided voters. We'll take a look at what they're thinking. Much more coverage from here in Cleveland, when we come back.


ANNOUNCER: In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman in a vice presidential debate. When her opponent, Vice President George Bush, offered to help in understanding foreign policy, she shot back.

GERALDINE FERRARO, VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I most resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude, that you have to teach me about foreign policy.



BLITZER: Students at Case Western University here in Cleveland, Ohio. They're pumped. They're excited. Lots of young people. Good to see young people out on a historic night like this, the vice presidential debate.

What exactly are the rules of the game? What rules have been approved for tonight's debate? Let's go ahead and bring in Judy Woodruff. She's in the so-called spin room, that's where the candidates are I guess we'll be spinning reporters and everyone else right after the debate. Judy, tell our viewers what they've agreed on, the format, for tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST, "JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS": Actually, Wolf, just to clarify, Spin Alley tonight is just a row of cameras on the side of the big press filing room, which you can see. Wolf, the rules are the same as what we saw in the presidential debate last week. Two minutes to one candidate to answer a question. A minute and a half follow-up by the other candidate, or rebuttal. And then at the moderator's discretion, she, Gwen Ifill of PBS, can continue the discussion for another 60 seconds. But what's going to be different I think is the chemistry, Wolf. You've got three people at a fairly small area. They're going to be seated. This is something the Democrats are saying the Cheney campaign wanted, that Dick Cheney felt more comfortable seated. Of course, the Republicans say that's not necessarily the case. The bottom line is, I think you'll get a little more feel for how they react to one another than you did last Thursday night when they were so far apart at those lecterns.

BLITZER: Judy Woodruff in Spin Alley, at least along Spin Alley, at the site of this first vice presidential debate, the only vice presidential debate. Judy, thanks. We'll be checking back with you. Bill Schneider is back in Washington. He's going to be, together with a team of CNN experts fact checking what the candidates, the two vice presidential candidates say tonight and report back to us if there's any exaggerations or whatever. Bill, set the scene for us. What is your mission?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, while you're watching, Wolf, we're checking. Our team of researchers here at CNN will be listening closely to what the candidates say. We'll try to verify their factual statements. If they say things that are incorrect or misleading, we'll drink bring them to your attention. You know, facts are rarely simple. They're subject to different interpretations. It there are legitimate disagreements about what the facts are and what they mean we'll tell you.

I'll be on the air shortly after tonight's debate with some initial assessments. And later tonight and tomorrow as we sort through what the candidates have said, my colleagues and I will have more details. We're not trying to play gotcha. We'll be guided by a sense of what's important and where the record needs to be made clear. You know, everybody makes misstatements. How serious they are and whether they represent a pattern of deception is something you, the voters, will have to decide -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill. We'll be checking back with you, of course, right after this debate. Checking back in the hours to come as well. The wives already in the hall at Case Western Reserve University. You've just seen Lynne Cheney right there. Elizabeth Edwards has already entered. Their husbands will be entering very soon as well. They're going after the undecided voters, and there are critical numbers of undecided voters in several of these so-called battleground states. No state more important than Ohio itself. Our Bill Hemmer is at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, with a group of undecided voters. Bill, tell our viewers what your mission is tonight.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thanks and good evening. We're only just down the road from you, 141 miles as the crow flies right down Interstate 71. Back on the campus here, Ohio State University, back in the Horton (ph) Geology Library, and is that not appropriate with Mount St. Helens in the news out in Washington state. Twenty- four mostly undecided men and women. 12 men, 12 women.

Tonight we've assembled an attorney, a CPA, a flight attendant. We have retired folks in our audience, students as well, taking us through the 90-minute debate and just like last Thursday night, Wolf, these meters have been given to all 24 people here. Numbers one through ten. Throughout this 90-minute period they'll be punching these numbers and giving us to read on how they respond. Ten being the strongest positive response and one being the strongest negative response.

Now, we will be watching this in real time through our website at and our financial news network, CNNfn. We can literally watch the meter move throughout this 90-minute period and watch the responses from the men and women here in central Ohio. The women are in yellow. The men are in blue. And thanks to the folks at Edison Research who assembled our panel tonight and the folks at Better Decisions for giving us the technology and these meters.

Much like last week, kind of an experiment, not quite sure what we're going to get but one of the mottoes here in Ohio, Wolf, is the heart of it all. And already in election 2004, Ohio is seeing the heart of this campaign. We'll let you know what we find after about 90 minutes, Wolf. Back to you now up the road in Cleveland.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, we'll be checking back with you at Ohio State University. Thanks very much. Remember, no Republican has ever been elected president of the United States without carrying Ohio. We're going to take another quick break. When we come back we'll hear from our "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts, Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. They're here with the entire CNN team. Lots of students here at Case Western University as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the 1988 debate between vice presidential candidates Dan Quayle and the Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, Quayle compares his experience in Congress to that of Jack Kennedy. Bentsen strongly disagrees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.



BLITZER: Welcome back to Cleveland where there are a lot -- lots of students from Case Western University getting ready for the first and only vice presidential debate tonight. What should we be watching? What should we be looking for? Let's bring in the two co- hosts of "CROSSFIRE," Paula Begala and Tucker Carlson.

What are you specifically going to be focusing in on, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": How does John Edwards start out? He's likely to be much more nervous than Cheney. It's his first time on the big stage. He didn't do a very good job at the Democratic Convention, where I thought he was too nervous. If he starts out kind of shaky and nervous, but then does better as the debate goes on, that's not good. Most people are going to judge him on the first 30 minutes.

BLITZER: Tucker, what are you going to be looking for?

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": I agree with that. I think Edwards will be nervous. He's got a lot more at stake here than Cheney does. I'll be looking for Cheney's sense of humor. He's a bad stump speaker, to put it bluntly, but he's pretty good in circumstances like this. He's pretty droll, he's amusing, and I think he'll be a lot more appealing than he normally is. And he's sort of famously stiff on the stump, but I would be surprised if he were that way tonight. BLITZER: Is Edwards ready to get tough with Dick Cheney, because he's such a nice guy, sort of positive? Is he ready to go in there and fight?

BEGALA: That's the big question. Joe Lieberman famously decided to be Mr. Nice Guy and lost the debate against Dick Cheney in 2000.

More than going after Dick Cheney, though, I think Edwards is going to have to show, is he tough enough to go after George W. Bush? I mean, this is a bit of these guys shooting past each other at their other principles. And can John Edwards, the trial lawyer, put George W. Bush on trial?

CARLSON: I'll be interested to see if he brings up Halliburton. If Edwards truly will be able to resist bringing up Halliburton. It's been at the center of the Kerry campaign for a year and a half. And they've never shown what it has to do with the war in Iraq. And maybe he'll explain tonight.

BLITZER: Paul, you've prepped a lot these candidates for these kinds of debates. What goes into it? How do you train, for example, Edwards to be ready for Dick Cheney?

BEGALA: Well, it's very hard. And in fact, these vice presidential candidates have a harder job, because it's multi- dimensional. They not only have to go out and put the other guy on trial, they know that somewhere on CNN, there's the president of the United States, there's John Kerry and their wives watching this.

And I watched with Bill Clinton as Al Gore debated Dan Quayle. Gore did a great job. But you know what? Bill Clinton was pretty annoyed, because he didn't feel like Al Gore defended him well enough. That wasn't Gore's job. We sent Gore in there to say, attack Bush, Sr.

And so these guys, both of them, I think are trying at the same time to think, I hope the boss thinks that was OK. I hope -- so it's much more complicated, actually, for them than it is for their bosses.

BLITZER: And how does Dick Cheney deal with the smooth, smooth trial lawyer, Tucker, like John Edwards?

CARLSON: Well, he does it by being the voice of authority. I mean, Dick Cheney has -- whenever you think of Dick Cheney, he's been around a long time in senior positions. I mean, the guy is probably more experienced than any other single -- maybe any other single person in government. And so I think he sort of does the steady hand on the tiller routine, you know, the sort of senior to Edwards' junior.

BLITZER: Tucker Carlson, Paul Begala, thanks as usual for joining us.

We're standing by. Seven minutes or so and counting until the start of this first and only vice presidential debate. We'll take another quick break. When we come back, we'll go inside the hall. You'll be hearing from the candidates themselves. Stay with us.


BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. The candidates are about to walk onto the stage, walk over to the desk. They will be miked. They will be prepared for this 90-minute debate. Dick Cheney, John Edwards, the vice presidential candidates will emerge.

Gwen Ifill, the moderator from PBS. She will ask the questions. The candidates will respond.

Welcome back to our continuing coverage. A crowd inside, including the families of the vice president and the Democratic senator from North Carolina, the man who wants to be the next vice president of the United States.

We're watching all of this with Jeff Greenfield, and our entire team when we -- we're waiting for them actually to walk out right now, Jeff. Momentarily they'll be walking over, taking their seats. It's a moment, I assume, that will be pretty nerve-racking for these two guys?

GREENFIELD: I think much more so for John Edwards. Remember, there's a real contrast here. One of the reasons why Dick Cheney is the most powerful vice president ever is he has made it clear that he doesn't intend -- and there they are -- to be president, to run. And so every Republican says, give him all the power he wants, he's not a threat. John Edwards clearly has the White House in mind, whether in four years if John Kerry loses or eight years if he wins. And so they've got their own agendas here to pursue, even as they are surrogates for their principals, and it's a very interesting position for each of them to be in.

BLITZER: I assume, Carlos, they also spent some time thinking of their wardrobe for tonight. Let's take a look at their wardrobe and get a sense of what if anything it means, because it looks like they had the same wardrobe consultant going into this debate.

WATSON: Soft blues on both sides, although in both cases, I think one of the interesting things is they're sitting down, and not standing up. And so to the extent that you think about the trim, svelte, young-looking John Edwards and you think about the more stately, more mature Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney probably appreciates the fact that they're sitting down.

BLITZER: Sort of that red tie, that business -- dark suit, red tie.

GREENFIELD: If you don't wear a red tie, you're not allowed to run for president anymore. The first guy that comes out with a yellow tie I think should get everybody's endorsement for guts. BLITZER: All right, hold on. I want to bring out -- I want to bring in our Anderson Cooper. He's on the scene for us here. He's with some students from Case Western Reserve University. He's trying to pick their brains as well -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, a lot of young people watching this debate. Alison (ph), you're 20 years old, what do you want to hear from the candidates? You support President Bush?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to hear how Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards plan on getting us out of Iraq, since they never laid out a specific plan.

COOPER: Do you think you're going to hear that tonight?


COOPER: All right. Tom, how about you? What do you want to hear? You support Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to hear how they can support this war in Iraq, when it was ill conceived and there is no exit strategy, and there is a clear connection between Saudi Arabia and a terrorist attack on 9/11.

COOPER: Both foreign policy issues. You want to hear a lot about foreign policy tonight, the war on terror? All right. Thanks very much.

A lot to watch for. A lot of young people watching here at Case Western Reserve, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Anderson. Want to explain to our viewers what we're seeing. The two candidates with Gwen Ifill of PBS, they're sitting there. They're waiting until exactly nine minutes -- 9:00, one minute and 30 seconds after 9:00. That's when Gwen Ifill will formally introduce the candidates, say a few words and then ask the first question.

Paula Begala is here with us. Dick Cheney looks very, very serious right now.

BEGALA: He does. But he's very comfortable, I believe, Wolf. I mean, this -- look at the format. Look at that set. You know, it looks like "LATE EDITION." He's the most frequent guest on Sunday talk shows probably in the last 20 years. And this is a format he's very comfortable with.

John Edwards, a better stump speaker, better on his feet. He's probably a little less comfortable right now than Cheney.

BLITZER: Tucker, this was the format that Cheney wanted.

CARLSON: Absolutely. And it suits him well. I mean, there was -- I thought there was a brilliant "New Yorker" profile of him a number of years ago that said -- by some -- I don't think it was probably sympathetic to his politics, but it said, when Dick Cheney speaks, it is like getting a sedative. I mean, it's calming. Truly, in the best way. He has a very sort of calming presence, and I think this set brings it out.

BLITZER: But Jeff Greenfield, as calming as he is, and he can be very soothing, very intelligent. You can push his buttons, and he can get very angry.

GREENFIELD: I think the one word that pushes his button is Halliburton. You remember that on the Senate floor he had some rather sharp words for Senator Pat Leahy. It was because Leahy had raised the issue of Halliburton.

But I don't think that either of these guys can go in hoping to produce one of those moments where somebody completely loses it. That's something for Hollywood. That doesn't happen. And both of these candidates are sufficiently well trained that the idea that they would go crazy, it's a fantasy.

BLITZER: Carlos?

WATSON: You know, the interesting thing about John Edwards is that voice, that Andy Griffith Southern accent that allows him to sit close to you, say really tough things but come across as a nice guy. One of the other interesting things is I think what's going on outside of the debate hall today. Remember, I think this is one of the most important political weeks of the year. Not only do you have a couple of debates, you've got the vote coming up in Afghanistan. You have got the final economic numbers.

So what these guys do here tonight is not only going to reverberate across this debate, but going forward the rest of what is an important week.

BLITZER: And we'll be anxious to hear what Gwen Ifill asks in her first question. It will be a sensitive moment to see how this debate starts. Will she start with a question involving national security, foreign policy? Will it be a domestic issue, an economic issue? A lot of questions, a lot of answers, presumably. We'll see how it goes. Here we go. Let's introduce Gwen Ifill of PBS.


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