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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Kerry, Bush to Face Off Again

Aired October 8, 2004 - 20:30   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's live coverage of the second presidential debate.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It just may be the most important 90 minutes of this presidential campaign. Eight days after a debate that turned the race around, President Bush and Senator Kerry meet at a town hall debate where every issue, from Iraq to the economy to social issues, are on the table and where everything may well be at stake.

Good evening, I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with Jeff Greenfield, Carlos Watson and the entire CNN team. We're here on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

That is literally the middle of the America. It almost always votes with the winner. And it's a state that Democrats had pretty much conceded to President Bush until last week's debate.

Now Democrats think they have a real chance here. And if the poll numbers are correct, Kerry's chances have brightened both nationally and in several other key battleground states, as well.

Jeff Greenfield, clearly, the president has a lot of work ahead of him over these 90 minutes. What must he do?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He has to do at least two things tonight.

One is he has to take this format, this town hall format, and remind voters why they liked him in a personal way in the first place, to relate to them on an emotional level.

But then he has to take this format and, in listening to the questions of the voters, turn and make the case against John Kerry, that he is unfit to be commander-in-chief in the wake of some pretty troubling news reports the last couple of days.

It is a -- if this were the Olympics, the degree of difficulty challenge here for the president would be pretty high, I think, Wolf.

BLITZER: And what about John Kerry, Carlos? What must he do?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's got to do two things, as well.

He's got to be strong and specific in talking about the issues. And maybe I'd add another. He's got to be succinct in talking about all this new news, whether it's Paul Bremer, et cetera. The other thing he's got to do is he's got to smile a little bit. He's got to show a sense of humor in this town hall format and be able to relate to people in a very personable way.

BLITZER: Smiling is very important. And Jeff, I see you're smiling right now.

GREENFIELD: I'm so happy to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you and Carlos are very happy. All of us are happy to be here.

Let's take a look at some specific questions that you're going to be looking at now. And then later, we'll see if those questions were answered adequately.

GREENFIELD: Right. I think the first thing I'm going to be looking for is who wins Iraq.

There were reports this week, as I mentioned, Paul Bremer, the one-time head of the occupation, saying, you know, we could have used more troops. You have the CIA Iraq survey report saying there were no weapons of mass destruction.

The president has to take those news reports, reframe the argument that the war in Iraq was the right thing to do, that's it's been executed correctly and that John Kerry is not the right choice for commander-in-chief.

The second question, I think this is really intriguing, is what domestic issues come up, because the Democrats think domestic issues, that's their strong point. And they think about jobs. They think about healthcare. They think about taxes.

Domestic issues also mean social issues like guns, like abortion, like religion in public life. And this is a chance for the president to use those domestic issues to try to rally the base again.

The third question -- we've been talking about it all week -- who connects? In a town hall format, the emotional connection between voter, candidate and viewer is very important.

If you don't do it, if you look detached the way the first President Bush did in 1992 when he checked his watch you can get hurt.

So the question now, though, is can you do that? Can you take this format, remain, quote, "likable," and still be very tough about John Kerry, because he wants to make that case?

And lastly, we return to the question we asked in Miami. How many persuadables are out there? We learned after that first debate that a great many people who thought they'd made up their mind were subject to change.

And when you look at this debate, depending on who watches, it's Friday night. It's a date night. It's a high school football night. It's playoff night with the Yanks and Minnesota.

So the question of how many people are watching this debate can be persuaded to change their minds on either side is probably the key question. That one's going to take 48 hours.

BLITZER: Sixty-two million Americans watched the first debate and clearly had a positive impact for John Kerry, Carlos.

WATSON: It will be interesting to see whether or not that many or more watch again, which in 1992, we did see an increase.

But if they don't watch, I think both sides need to make sure they have great one-liners, because the reality is a lot of people are going to hear about this on TV or on the radio on Saturday or Sunday. So this will be a battle of one-liners. And I'd stay tuned to see who has the one-liners. We saw some good ones, by the way, in the vice presidential debate.

BLITZER: One-liners are always good in any of these debates.

GREENFIELD: I think the Republicans are hoping for a replay of the second 1984 debate when Ronald Reagan, who stumbled in the first debate got off that memorable "I will not use Walter Mondale's youth and inexperience," and basically, that was the only thing anybody covered.

BLITZER: A good one-liner indeed.

Let's go over to the hall and get some expectations from inside. Our senior White House correspondent, John King, standing by. Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, there as well.

John let me begin with you. What are the expectations based on what you're hearing?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president knows full well himself, and his entire campaign knows full well, he must do so much better than in the first debate if he is to stop Senator Kerry's momentum and perhaps get it back.

Jeff was talking about the domestic issues. The president knows he needs to give a better explanation to the American people tonight about why he went to war in Iraq, why he didn't send more troops and how he will get out.

But the Bush campaign also thinks, and this is perhaps counter intuitive, that perhaps now that more domestic issues will be in play, that it can do a better job of getting Senator Kerry's record in the Senate in play.

The president tonight will call John Kerry essentially a tax- happy liberal out of the mainstream with the American people. Domestic issues are supposed to be Senator Kerry's strength. The president tonight is going to try to turn the tables.

BLITZER: He called him -- he called him a tax and spend liberal from Massachusetts only a couple days ago, John. I guess from the Republican standpoint, it doesn't get more derogatory than that, does it?

KING: No, it does not. Obviously, what President Bush would like to say is that John Kerry is even more liberal than Teddy Kennedy.

But of course, his campaign also knows, as he makes that case, he is the incumbent president. He must defend a relatively anemic new jobs report. He must defend the fact that the number of -- number of Americans in poverty have gone up. The number of Americans without health insurance have gone up.

So the president has to defend his record on those domestic issues as well as on Iraq before he makes the pivot to attacking Senator Kerry. His aides believe that is the test he failed in the first debate.

He's a very competitive man, George W. Bush. They say he understands and he's still smarting from the first debate performance, and he wants to get in this hall and get going.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, John Kerry is a very competitive man, as well. He's got a mission ahead of him tonight.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he does, but they will -- they would agree with just about everybody else that this is George Bush's debate.

I mean, you know two days ago, they began to say, you know, look, this debate is about George Bush, and they're very aware of that. And -- and frankly, the hurdle that they have now is a lot less than when they went into Miami.

When they went into Miami, they were looking for momentum. Now they're looking to keep the momentum, which is a heck of a lot easier, just the forces of physics tell you that.

So what they do know they have to guard against and what John Kerry has to guard against is what he always has to guard against, and that is his tendency to go into very long explanations and Senate- speak, which may come up with when you get to these domestic issues.

Having said that, he feels very comfortable. Democrats have always felt that the domestic issues are their strong suit.

So one of the aides that I talked to today said, look, you can spin a lot of things, but the facts are the facts. You will hear a lot tonight from John Kerry about the number of people without healthcare, as compared to the first year. The number of people without jobs, et cetera, et cetera. So you'll hear a lot of facts out of John Kerry tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, thanks very much. You'll be with us throughout the night. John King, as well. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot going on tonight. When we come back, Judy Woodruff will join us. She'll explain the format, the rules of tonight's debate, a little bit different. Perhaps quite a bit different than the first presidential debate.

Bill Schneider taking a look at some fact checking. He heads the team for us. We'll go to him.

We'll also go to Ohio State University. Other -- other people have gathered there with our Bill Hemmer. Undecided voters. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a 1992 debate with Ross Perot and Bill Clinton, President George Bush stumbled on a question on how the recession personally affected him.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not sure I get it. Help me with the question and I'll try to answer it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But a gesture spoke louder than any answer. Bush was caught on camera checking his watch, giving the impression he just wasn't interested.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here at Washington University here in St. Louis, students, some of them support Kerry, some of them support George W. Bush. There's no doubt that the students here are pumped as we get ready for this second presidential debate.

Inside the hall right now, Charlie Gibson, the ABC News moderator. He's speaking to the group inside. We're monitoring what he's saying, of course. We'll get to this event as soon as it begins.

Our Judy Woodruff is over there, as well.

And Judy, I want you to explain to our viewers the format tonight, as well as the rules of the game.

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": Well, Wolf, what's different tonight is that we finally get to hear from the voters. We're going to hear about 15 or 20 questions that Charlie Gibson of ABC has picked out that these voters submitted this morning. Some of the questions were written, I'm told, as late as this morning.

A hundred and 40 voters from the St. Louis area. We are told that only about 10 percent of them were truly undecided. The rest of them are half soft Bush supporters, the other half soft Kerry supporters.

And it -- it was literally up to Charlie Gibson and him alone to pick out the 15 or 20 questions that he's going to use tonight. And these people will not know until tonight that -- that it's their question, that they're going to be the one who's called on to stand up.

And Wolf, as you know, the candidates are sitting on stools, but they're going to be free to roam around. They're going to be allowed to walk up and perhaps approach the person who asked the question. I wouldn't be surprised to see that happen at the very beginning of this debate tonight.

BLITZER: Both of these candidates have done numerous town hall meetings on the campaign. We'll see how they do tonight. Judy, we'll get back to you.

Let's bring in our Bill Schneider. He's back in Washington heading a team of CNN reporters, researchers, producers.

You're going to be doing some serious fact checking tonight, Bill. Explain what you're going to be doing.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they say facts are stubborn things.

Our research team here at CNN is going to be listening closely to the debate tonight to see if slippery answers come into collision with stubborn facts. And when that happens, we'll bring it to your attention.

Now facts may be stubborn, but they're not often simple. They can be interpreted in different ways. When there's a legitimate disagreement about the facts, we'll tell you about it.

Now, I'll come on shortly after the debate with initial assessments. My colleagues will continue to bring you more details later tonight and tomorrow as we sort through the debate and examine the record.

Our purpose is not to play gotcha. It's to give you some basis on which to judge the validity of the candidate's claims. Everyone makes misstatements. But when the candidates stray some distance from the facts, we'll let you know -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill. We'll be anxious to get some of those facts. Thanks very much.

Bill Hemmer is over in Columbus, Ohio.

And once again, Bill, you've assembled a group of some interested voters out there.

BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Interested and undecided, Wolf. You're right. Back on the campus of Ohio State University tonight. We're live in the Mershon Auditorium here in the Wexner Hall on the beautiful campus of Ohio State University.

Twenty-four undecided voters again tonight. A whole new group from last week, 12 men and 12 women. And if the polls are right, if it is truly this close of a race, people like we have gathered here tonight, Wolf, will be the ones deciding this race ultimately on the 2nd of November.

We're back with our meters through Better Decisions. One through 10, again, here's how it works. Ten being the strongest positive reaction, a one being the strongest negative reaction.

Over the course of 90 minutes, these 24 men and women will punch in their readings about how they're react to the questions and the answers and what they see tonight in St. Louis.

You can watch this on our website at CNN.com. You can watch it in real time on our financial news network, at CNNfn, as well, as we go throughout the next 90 minutes.

Now before we came on the air, Wolf, we did a little survey here. The issues that concern these people the most, in our group tonight, deal with national security and the economy. Behind that you have a lot of people tonight wanting more answers on healthcare and, certainly, the issue of Iraq.

Will they get their answers? And will they be any closer to deciding who they will pull the lever for in about 25 days on November 2? After 90 minutes, Wolf, we'll be back to let you know if we got any closer to it tonight here in Columbus.

Back to you now in St. Louis.

BLITZER: It will be fascinating to watch what all of those people are doing with the meters during those 90 minutes. Bill Hemmer, thanks very much. We'll get back to you.

We'll take another quick break. From Washington University here in St. Louis. When we come back, we'll check in with "CROSSFIRE's" Paul Begala, the "Capital Gang's" Kate O'Burn.

It's almost time for the second presidential debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the 1976 debate between President Ford and Jimmy Carter, the president made a major mistake. He seemed to misunderstand the Cold War in Europe.

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jimmy Carter narrowly won the election a few weeks later.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: This is not the first time these students here at Washington University in St. Louis have hosted a presidential debate. Seems like an almost regular event.

Welcome back to our coverage.

If you go inside the hall, the first lady, Laura Bush, has already entered. She's seated, as has been Teresa Heinz Kerry. They're inside the hall, listening to Charlie Gibson of ABC News, the moderator for tonight, give them all some final instructions.

Let's bring in two of our "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts, Paul Begala. He's here in St. Louis. Bob Novak, he's in Washington.

First to you, Paul. You prepped a lot of these Democratic candidates for this kind of event tonight. What does Kerry need to do as he gets ready for this big second debate?

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, the master of this medium was Bill Clinton, even better than Ronald Reagan at connecting one on one.

And his secret was listening. He used to say that this is really only one question, and that is, do you get it? But you have to be an active listener. You have to really lock in on that person and really try to -- because the questions are often going to be kind of inchoate, maybe not very carefully phrased. They're not like Wolf Blitzer asking a question of a cabinet member or of a candidate for president.

So you have to sort of imagine the story behind that. And that was Clinton's great gift, was listening and then answering instead of just reloading a one-liner.

BLITZER: And trying to connect with that person directly, which Bill Clinton was so good at doing.

Bob Novak is in Washington. He's on the phone. He's recovering from some hip surgery.

First of all, Bob, we hope you're feeling a lot better. Wish you a speedy recovery.

What do these two guys have to do here tonight?

BOB NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, the guy who has to do a lot, Wolf, is President George W. Bush.

I broke my hip the morning after his terrible first debate, not in despair, I assure you. It was an accident. But I'll tell you who has been in despair. I've been in hospital beds in Coral Gables. Now I'm at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

In talking to Republicans, they are -- they are in despair, because they thought the president looked like a dummy. They thought he was inattentive. They thought he looked inarticulate. And what they want out of this debate and what his aides may not tell him is somebody who really cares, who really is attuned to these issues and doesn't have to change his positions at all, but looks as though he really means it and isn't just kind of drifting along as he often does in Republican fundraisers.

BLITZER: You think, Bob, the president was as bad as that in that first debate?

NOVAK: I thought he was really poor. And it's very interesting.

When I was down in Coral Gables in the hospital, I -- an awful lot of people there are Cuban-Americans, and they are great Bush supporters and they thought he was just miserable. They -- a lot of them said "You or I," meaning they or me, "could do a lot better job than him."

But who are they going to vote for? They're going to vote for George W. Bush, of course.

And that's the interesting thing. We're talking about a very small universe who bases their position on who wins in debates, who looks good in debates. George W. Bush conceivably could still win this election, looking as bad as he did in the last debate.

But I don't think so, and I think he has to do better. He has to look like he means it, and he has to look like a Reagan conservative, as well.

BLITZER: Paul Begala, but doesn't this format, this town hall meeting format, sort of help give the president a certain advantage, given his opportunity to interact with real people out there?

BEGALA: Absolutely. One of his great gifts as a politician is that he comes across as a regular guy. And he is a pretty regular guy. I mean, I don't support his views, and I like him. And so if I do, I think an undecided voter is going to be pretty favorably impressed with him.

The problem is, he gave a speech this week, a new stump speech retooled, very aggressive, very negative. You can't be that negative in a town hall meeting. You need to use humor and you need to deflect.

And in fact, I don't think he should ever turn to John Kerry directly and say, "You flip-flop." He should say to the audience members, "You know, Carlos," and tell some joke about flip-flopping. And that will be a lot more effective.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to ask all of you to stand by, because we're only a few minutes away, six minutes and counting, from the start of this presidential debate, the second presidential debate. This one here at Washington University in St. Louis. We'll take you inside.

We'll be right back. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 1980, incumbent President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan debated only once. Reagan used the time well, as he asked a question that would resonate with voters.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A couple minutes to go before the start of this second presidential debate. We're standing by for the -- for this debate.

You see the hall inside. We're told the president and the Democratic nominee are inside in holding rooms. They'll be walking out soon.

Anderson Cooper is with a bunch of students over here on the campus of Washington University.

Anderson, give us a little flavor of what they're telling you.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Well, Wolf, you know, tonight is all about undecided voters. They're going to be asking the questions of the candidates tonight.

We have four undecided students right here. This is Michael. He's a senior.

What do you want to hear tonight? What's the issues that are most important to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think from the Kerry campaign, I'd like to hear some specifics as to how they implement a policy that really is different from the Bush administration.

And from Bush, I think I'd like to hear what foreign policy looks like in a second administration when you have countries right now in Iran and Iraq -- and North Korea with weapons of mass destruction.

COOPER: Kate, you're a junior. You want to hear specifics, too, but you also care about personality. You want to see -- take a judgment of both these men tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: yes. I want to look for the candidate that is genuine and has straightforward answers and who is very, just, you know, right to the point of what we want to know as voters.

COOPER: It will be interesting to see the town hall format, how that works.

Rob, you're a senior. What issues do you want to hear? What haven't the candidates addressed that you want them to? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Actually, I think it's pretty easy to bash Bush. But I think Kerry, like all the campaign I've seen Kerry do is, like, in working class areas, people who, like, have jobs. I don't see him talk to people on welfare or something, like, in New York City. I want to see, like, how his policies play out.

COOPER: All right. And Delinda (ph), you're a sophomore. You care about -- the issue for you is jobs, the economy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jobs and the economy. Obviously, Bush hasn't got it done, but I'd like to ask Kerry what he thinks he can do so differently than Bush to make our economy and make it a more even playing field.

COOPER: Could tonight make up your minds, this debate? Could it possibly? All right, we'll see.

Four undecided voters, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Anderson Cooper, thanks very much.

Smart kids, Jeff Greenfield. They have questions that are on the minds of all of us.

GREENFIELD: They do, and -- but beyond the questions, I'll say the same thing I said in Miami even more tonight. Who takes the room? This is a situation where there are real voters out there and even more than in Miami, the candidate who dominates the room, not just with his answers, with his effect, with his approach to these questions, is the winner. That's what happens.

BLITZER: Isn't there a problem, though, Carlos, if they come out swinging right away, they might seem nasty and it might not look good for them.

WATSON: They might, although going back to something that Paul said, and something I said earlier, I think humor is going to be important and how they use it.

But I do think there will be some issues that I think people will engage on. I expect to hear a little bit of something about the draft. You know, we've heard rumors about that, back and forth. But I wouldn't be surprised to hear that from a young person, from a parent.

Remember, women more than men in the latest polls say that they think the draft could come back, although a majority of people say they don't think it will happen.

The other thing, Wolf, I'd watch out for is if a veteran stands up and asks a question, in a very personal way. Remember, both of these men, that's been a very personal issue and I think that's something to watch out for.

BLITZER: Paul Begala, they have a tight -- they have a delicate line to walk, right? Both of these candidates. BEGALA: They do but a lot of it is their own frame of mind going into it. I suspect John Kerry was very nervous knowing this is a good format for Bush but I bet you the last two words they say to him before he walks out, David Ortiz. No, not a Hispanic swing voter. A Red Sox slugger who just won the game for his beloved Red Sox. I think that's going to put Kerry in a good mood. These little things actually matter for candidates.

BLITZER: The Red Sox always come close but they never seem to win. That's not necessarily going to put him in such a good mood.

BEGALA: Very bad omen for a Massachusetts fellow...

WATSON: Although you know what he'd tell you. He'd say the New England Patriots have won 18 games in a row. That's another hometown team.

BLITZER: All right, the sports metaphors, let's forget about those right now. Let's set the scene for our viewers right now. This is the hall. Charlie Gibson is already giving instructions to the -- not only those people who are going to be asking questions but everyone inside, about 600 other people are there. They have been gathered, they have been invited, questions have now been approved. It's up to Charlie Gibson and Charlie Gibson alone to select those questions. The individuals will ask the questions as they have been written. If they deviate in any way whatsoever, he is obliged to cut them off right away and to get to the next questioner.

So this second debate will begin now.

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