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Post-Debate Analysis

Aired October 8, 2004 - 22:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States smiling, clearly pleased by his performance, at least on the outside. Senator Kerry smiling as well. They went a little bit longer than the allotted 90 minutes, about 96, 97 minutes since the start of this debate.
Jeff Greenfield, you were looking at some specific questions. Were they answered?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, they certainly addressed what we thought they might. The first question was who is going to win the Iraq debate? And both sides stuck to their basic argument. The president -- that it was a mistake about it -- the president saying, look, we're safer without Saddam no matter what. I had to do what I did. And Kerry saying it was a colossal misjudgment.

And I still think on this one, Wolf, that the news of the last few days may push this debate more than what either said.

Second, I thought this was most intriguing. We asked the question what domestic issues? And indeed, both social issues and economic issues came up. If you want a quick judgment, I thought one of the senator's strongest points was on reimportation of Canadian drugs. That's a very popular issue, particularly in the Midwest. The president said it's because we have to make sure they're safe. I think Kerry said look, come on, it's because the drug companies don't want it.

But we also heard on domestic issues, the social issues, and on abortion, the president was able to make the argument that his base most wants to hear. We're not going to spend tax dollars on abortion, and partial birth abortion is wrong. That happens to be a particular issue where most of the country agrees with the president.

And then on the question of who connected, I thought both of these people were making an effort to reach the audience, but with different ways. The president was, depending on whether you like him or not, he was either very assertive or he was shouting, but he was clearly wanting to show that he was in this argument.

Senator Kerry spent much more time, as a debater would, mentioning the people's names, tying one question to another. Though both of them made that effort.

And as to the last and most important question, were there persuadables and were they moved, call me in 72 hours, Wolf. Then we'll know.

BLITZER: And we're looking at the stage, a lot of people have walked in. There seems to be a lot of effort to get close to the president and the Democratic presidential nominee.

Carlos Watson, it did look like the president had a bit of a different tactical strategy in this debate as opposed to the first debate.

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he was more aggressive. He was able to walk around, which I think in some ways, despite the appearance of shouting to some, made him look more comfortable.

But, Wolf, what I thought was interesting was a fundamental clash of styles. When the president makes an argument, he fundamentally makes an argument based on principle. And in fact, you know, in lots of university classes, you see that.

What's very interesting about John Kerry, though, is you see a lot of citing of facts and statistics. He'll point to history. And I think when all was said and done, John Kerry will ultimately be perceived as the winner of this debate, although the president gave a stronger performance. But I think particularly among those who are undecided, the specificity, I think, will be important. And I think we'll hear a lot about that in days to come.

BLITZER: John King has been watching this, our senior White House correspondent. John, your thoughts?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I had an e- mail about two-thirds of the way through from a Republican who was dispirited after that last debate, and that e-mail said "thank God."

So Republicans I think will certainly be happy. They were despondent, as Bob Novak was noting before the program, we've been reporting, since the last debate Republicans were very down after the president's performance in the last debate. They, of course, will be encouraged here.

The president did acknowledge that he's made some mistakes. He was not specific about that, but he said there have been some tactical mistakes in the war that he regrets, and the president has to make adjustments.

And the president did another thing that his aides said was critical coming in. They knew more domestic issues would come up tonight, and the president kept saying, "you can run but you cannot hide," suggesting that Senator Kerry cannot pay for all his promises without raising taxes on everyone, and that he is a liberal who favors big government.

The Bush team believed coming in that as the debate turns now to domestic issues and the third debate will be entirely on domestic issues, that he needed to set the tone of that discussion tonight, even as he defended and explained his Iraq policy. So I think the Bush team will say, come out of this debate saying it accomplished what it came in to do. I think largely, you had a very spirited discussion that showed the very significant differences, both in philosophy and on the substance of some of these key issues between these two men -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, let's bring her in. She's been covering the Kerry campaign. What did you think?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you that the Kerry campaign thinks, you know, that they won. In fact, that's what the e-mail says. That they say that their numbers, and that is their focus groups, were very good when it came to the subject of Iraq and were sort of over the top, I believe, was the expression used, when it came to the domestic issues.

So whoever it is they're talking to thought that John Kerry did a good job.

Now, not a lot that was new, but both John and I were struck at the very end at something that John Kerry said. And I don't know if it will come back to haunt him, or quite how it will be interpreted, but during an discussion, and I believe the president said Saddam Hussein would still be in office if it were up to John Kerry. John Kerry said, well, not necessarily.

An interesting -- that's a very interesting thing for him to say, because it's the first time I've ever heard him even leave any opening there. He always said we could have gotten him out if we'd left sanctions in, we just needed a little -- he was dying, that kind of thing.

I thought that was an interesting answer in terms of the substance of things and whether there was anything new. That stuck out.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

Let's go to get some reaction from both of these campaigns right now. Ken Mehlman is the campaign manager for the Bush/Cheney campaign. He's joining us now live. Ken, I know you think your candidate -- I know you think your candidate won, but he certainly came out much more aggressively this time, some would say he was actually screaming during the first half of this debate. What do you say? Was there a different ground rule that you suggested he go into it with?

KEN MEHLMAN, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think the president dominated tonight. I think he was passionate, I think he was thoughtful, he was humorous. I think he connected with the audience very well.

I also think that the president helped expose that Senator Kerry, when it comes to foreign policy, has a dangerous and a naive world view. When it comes to domestic policy, exposed him as a big government -- as a big government liberal. And as you pointed out just a minute ago, you can run but you can't hide. That was the line of the night. Because what he pointed out was on issue after issue after issue, from intelligence to the Patriot Act, to taxes, to spending, to medical liability, what John Kerry says and what John Kerry's done for 20 years are very different.

BLITZER: But what about the argument that he made that the president has flip-flopped himself, making commitments, for example, four years ago during a similar kind of debate that he thought it was a good idea to allow Americans to import drugs from Canada. He's had four years to do it, to make sure it's safe. He hasn't done it.

MEHLMAN: Well, the president does think it's a good idea, and he wants to try to do it. The problem is, the same problem that President Bill Clinton ran into.

BLITZER: He's had a chance -- but he's had a chance for four years to do it.

MEHLMAN: And Bill Clinton had a chance for eight years to do it. And the challenge we have is to make sure we're doing it in a way that's safe. Ultimately, the most important thing is to make sure we have these life-saving drugs and that they're safe. And that's the point the president made tonight.

BLITZER: The whole notion, though, of a new, more aggressive style on the part of the president, was that the result of looking at the videotapes from the first debate and thinking that the president did not necessarily do so well?

MEHLMAN: I think it's the result of the president passionately believing in what he's doing for this country, talking about his agenda for the next four years, to keep our country safe, to keep the economy moving forward. It's also the result I think of the president laying out the real concerns that the American people have with respect to John Kerry, his dangerous and naive world view, his plan for big government at home, $2.2 trillion in new spending, higher taxes, more government control of health care. All of those reasons I think produced a debate in which the president dominated.

BLITZER: Ken Mehlman, thanks very much for joining us.

MEHLMAN: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Let's get the other side of this story right now. Mike McCurry is a senior strategist working for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. Mike, thanks very much for joining us.

Let's get to one of the specific points that the president kept on making repeatedly. This country is a country in war right now. He can keep the Americans safe; John Kerry can't.

MIKE MCCURRY, KERRY-EDWARDS CAMPAIGN: You know, Wolf, in the first debate, John Kerry made it very clear that as commander in chief, he'd prosecute the war against terrorism in a vigorous way. And I think he passed the test looking like a commander in chief tonight. The important thing was to join in that argument the notion that John Kerry will lead us in a much different direction here at home.

On the economy, building a jobs program that will put people back to work after some of the news that we had today, do the kinds of things to lower prescription drug costs, make sure that they are available. And we had a good exchange on that today.

Our job tonight was to really begin to fill in the gaps about where Senator Kerry would lead when it comes to the domestic front, on the economy, on jobs. And I think that was the strongest part of the debate tonight.

I think he -- in some ways, it seemed to me that President Bush was, when he wasn't screaming in my ear, it was he was coming back to try to win the debate that happened last week. And in some sense, the debate has moved on. Both candidates have now kind of fleshed out positions on that, and they're talking about things that are now relating to people's lives here at home.

And I thought on those subjects, Senator Kerry was clearly strong.

BLITZER: Mike, were you surprised that John Kerry based made a commitment along the lines of for people earning under $200,000 a year, read my lips, no new taxes, to paraphrase another president?

MCCURRY: More important, tax relief for those 98 percent that are below $200,000 a year in income, because we need middle-income tax relief for those who foot that bill.

I think the senator made very clear that the priorities of President Bush and who he fights for, who he's connected to, who he stands up for, are just all wrong. And I'm confident that as America heard that tonight and heard what Senator Kerry said he would fight for as president, they said, there's a guy who is going to have my back. And that's what the senator wanted to convey.

BLITZER: Mike McCurry, thanks very much to you as well.

Our Bill Schneider has been looking at this along with all of us. He's together with a team of CNN producers, reporters, researchers. You've been looking a little bit at the facts that were uttered tonight. Give us a little fact check.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: OK. Well, President Bush on several occasions mentioned a figure that he claims demonstrated his success in pursuing al Qaeda. Listen to this bite by President Bush.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I vowed to our countrymen that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. That's why we're bringing al Qaeda to justice; 75 percent of them have been brought to justice. That's why I said to Afghanistan, if you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist, and the Taliban is no longer in power. And al Qaeda no longer has a place to plan.


SCHNEIDER: Seventy-five percent, he said, of al Qaeda figures have been brought to justice. Well, that figure gives false precision, and I think reassurance. CIA officials estimate that 75 percent of the two dozen or so known al Qaeda leaders, as of September 11, 2001, have been killed or captured. It doesn't take into account post-September 11 and the estimates from organizations like the International Institute for Strategic Studies are that al Qaeda may have as many as 18,000 potential operatives, but no official data, because it's very difficult to track the number of new recruits since the Iraq war.

Now, on one occasion, Senator Kerry said 1.6 million jobs have been lost under this president. He's correct that this president will lose jobs for the first time in 72 years. But the 1.6 million only refers to private sector jobs lost. The overall number of jobs lost since January 2001 is about half that, 821,000, according to numbers just released.

President Bush said, on one occasion, the federal government is going to be running your health care under Senator Kerry's plan. Well, the government bureaucrats would not dictate or limit coverage by -- or choices of doctors, as President Bush suggests. cites a study that says 97 percent of Americans under the Kerry plan would simply keep the health care plan that they now have.

And finally, Senator Kerry mentioned on one occasion that General Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, was forced to retire as a result of his comments about troop levels in Iraq. That's inaccurate. He served his full four-year term as Army chief of staff and he didn't retire early. By the time he had made his comments on troop levels, it was already known that he wouldn't remain in his post beyond the normal four-year term -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much. You think after all these times that John Kerry makes that claim about General Shinseki being forced to retire, not a correct claim, somebody would have told him he's got to reword the way he utters that so-called fact.

Bill Hemmer is watching all of this together with all of us, but he's got a unique perspective, because of the people he's with in Columbus, Ohio -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, uncanny tonight. Almost throughout this entire 90-minute debate, the women in our group of 24 mostly undecided voters favored President Bush, and the men favored Senator Kerry. Sometimes throughout this debate, Wolf, when we watched the lines between the women and the men, oftentimes they'd criss-cross depending on who was speaking at the time in St. Louis.

Some of the biggest spikes, though, for President Bush came when he talked about the draft. A big issue of late. Watch the lines here. Women in yellow, men in blue, and how they respond. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We're not going to have a draft, period. The all- volunteer Army works. It works particularly when we pay our troops well. It works when we make sure they've got housing, like we've done in the last military budgets. An all-volunteer Army is best suited to fight the new wars of the 21st century, which is to be specialized and to find these people as they hide around the world.


HEMMER: Now, the issue of the economy and Senator Kerry. When he looked into the camera and talked about not raising taxes, on those making less than $200,000 a year. Watch the meters move there.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not going to raise taxes. I have a tax cut, and here's my tax cut. I raise the child care credit by $1,000 for families to help them be able to take care of their kids. I have a $4,000 tuition tax credit that goes to parents and kids, if they're earning for themselves, to be able to pay for college.


HEMMER: Now, before the debate began, we asked 24 folks here in Columbus, Ohio what they're looking for, what questions they'll have throughout the night. Larry, what did you think of the tone over 90 minutes?

LARRY BOBB, INSURANCE WORKER: I think this was the best of the three debates so far. I think the tone was positive in some degree and negative in others. I think Bush stuck with his agenda that he's had all along, and I think Kerry was on a very negative attack tone during the debate.

HEMMER: Interesting. To Bob across the room, your big issue was national security. Did you get your answers tonight?

ROBERT ZADPOZNY, RETIRED EDUCATOR: Some, yes, some no. I think President Bush is strong on security and fighting the war on terror. I was concerned that neither candidate has addressed the issue of protecting our northern and southern borders.

HEMMER: You need another debate?

ZADPOZNY: I'd like to hear somebody answer that question.

HEMMER: You're going to get that.

Faye, you were worried about health care. Did you get your answers tonight?

FAYE BROWN, UNEMPLOYED: No, I didn't really get my answers, because I don't know if they're telling me the truth or not. HEMMER: Well, that's always a sticking point, isn't it?

BROWN: Exactly.

HEMMER: Lisa, you came tonight with no particular agenda. You were just coming to listen. Based on what you heard, did you get an answer as to who you'll vote for?

LISA ELLEBROCK, HOMEMAKER: I did. I feel that now, I was kind of on the border, but after hearing both candidates tonight, I think that I've kind of swayed over to Bush's side.

HEMMER: You favor the president at this point?


HEMMER: Show of hands, make them up in the air now. After tonight's debate, who here knows who they'll vote for in 25 days? One, two -- I count everybody except for one, two, three, four hands. So we're getting closer. One more debate next week. Thanks, you've been a great audience tonight here on the campus of Ohio State University.

Back to Wolf now with more in St. Louis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bill Hemmer. Very, very interesting.

Good to watch these debates with these people in Ohio. A key battleground state.

Let's go from Ohio to the spin room. Here in St. Louis, on the campus of Washington University, Judy Woodruff is inside. Are you getting dizzy yet from all the spinning that's going on in there, Judy?

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Well, all of us in the press are getting dizzy, Wolf, you could say. But you won't be surprised to know the Bush people are saying the president did very well. They're saying that the president kept Senator Kerry on the defensive. The Kerry people, on the other hand, are very pleased. They say that the senator continued the momentum that he came out of the first debate with. They are telling reporters that particularly on domestic issues, that they think the president did better.

And I will tell you too, Wolf, that I've also talked to reporters who say that -- you can hear a little Bush crowd next to me. But the reporters I've talked to say that they think this really materially hasn't changed the race. The president did do better than he did in the first debate, but the consensus seems to be, you know, the question is whether he did well enough to get himself moving and give himself the momentum that he needed to come out of this debate. But again, it's early, we're still talking.

BLITZER: All right, Judy, we're going to get back to you. Obviously, very early in the process. Is it too early, Jeff Greenfield and Carlos Watson, after the first debate, it was pretty clear to almost everyone, including Republicans, that Bush lost that one, Kerry won that one. After the vice presidential debate, it looked like both did relatively well. We sort of suggested it was pretty much of a tie. What about right now?

GREENFIELD: Yeah. I don't think this debate had a one-sided quality that the first one did. And we also have to remember who it matters most to. If 80 or 85 percent of the country has decided, we had a big surprise tonight. The Bush people said, our guy did great, and the Kerry people said our guy did great. That's not even dog bites man, that's dog eats bone.

It's the undecided voters, those persuadables. And over the next 48 hours, as the facts come out, as people decide who made the most mistakes, as people talk with their neighbors, that's when you're going to get a sense of whether or not votes will move. I think it's harder to tell after this debate than it was in the first debate. Very much so.

BLITZER: Carlos?

WATSON: Yeah, Wolf, I think about three things in terms of who ultimately will be perceived as the winner.

First and foremost, these one-liners. Which of the one-liners will capture the day, and will we hear any of them on "Saturday Night Live" for example, tomorrow.

Two, I'll be thinking about the fact-checking. We saw after the vice presidential debate, when Vice President Cheney made that gaffe about never having met John Edwards, we saw that the next day, and that seemed to undercut his position, at least a little bit.

The third thing, though, whereas the Sunday talk shows, including our own, often reflect what the consensus is, this time I think they'll be a key part in driving the consensus in terms of who actually wins. So I think three interesting things in the spin game. I think Jeff is right, who ultimately is perceived as the winner may not truly emerge until Monday or Tuesday.

GREENFIELD: And George Bush said -- called the state Missour-a. And depending on where you're from in the state, that's fighting words. I don't know how that's going to affect the outcome of this, though.

WATSON: You know, also, one other thing about the debate map. For John Kerry, no matter who ultimately is perceived the winner, it was a good thing for him that this debate was in Missouri. Remember, just a couple of weeks ago, he had stopped advertising here. And having the debate here is almost like getting $5 or $6 million worth of free advertising.

Now, that doesn't mean he's going to win it, and that doesn't mean that he'll close the double digit gap that we saw a month ago, but it does mean it was a good thing for him that the debate was here and that Arizona's coming up next week. BLITZER: Is it good that in Arizona, Tempe, Arizona next Wednesday night, it's all domestic issues, economic issues, as opposed to Iraq again, the war on terror?

GREENFIELD: Remember, domestic issues also mean social issues. And that's where the president's campaign thinks they can mobilize their base. We shouldn't make the mistake of equating domestic issues simply with economic issues. So that's the last one. I don't think it's considered a battleground state by either party yet, but it's not just about money.

BLITZER: Jeff and Carlos, stand by, because our analysis is going to continue here on CNN. A lot more coverage of this second presidential debate, including a look ahead. More of a look ahead to the third and final presidential debate. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards is going to join me Sunday on CNN's "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. That would begin Sunday, at noon Eastern. But Larry King is standing by to pick up our coverage right now. Larry has a very, very special gust, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Larry, you can pick it up right now.


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