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Post Presidential Debate Analyst

Aired October 13, 2004 - 22:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS: Emotional moments indeed following this 90-minute debate between the president and his Democratic challenger. They're being well received clearly by their family, their friends, others who have come to Tempe, Arizona, Arizona State University. And look at this. A hug from the wives of these two presidential candidates. Jeff Greenfield, as we continue to watch this scene unfold on the stage here at Arizona State University, you were looking at some specific questions. Did you get the answers?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I guess we got the answers to my questions of the first one which was what domestic issues. And this one ranged all over the lot from prayer and abortion and taxes and the minimum wage to why there weren't enough flu shots this fall. Which leads me to a point, Wolf. I thought that this was the least satisfying of the debates, the least focused, the most drenched in wonkery (ph) on both sides.

The second question that we got an answer to sort of was the liberal label. Only one time did I hear President Bush directly say to Kerry, you're too liberal. He said on a couple, you're on the far left where the mainstream -- from where the mainstream of American politics is. I think we're going to hear a lot more about that on the campaign trail.

And in terms of who this campaign was about whether it's about Bush's record or Kerry's record, my own feeling is this debate was so awash in numbers and figures that I think a lot of the -- if the audience was looking for sharp answers to whether to rehire the president or hire this new leader, I'm not sure they got a lot of answers. This sounded more like one of those Sunday morning debates between two candidates for senator than a debate in which anyone sounded like they had the bearing of the commander-in-chief. Maybe that helps Kerry because Bush is the commander-in-chief. But I thought neither candidate used this debate to their full opportunity.

BLITZER: Carlos Watson, what do you think?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree to some extent that neither candidate used it to their full ability. I thought that one of the things that John Kerry could have done was use a really compelling rhetorical question to frame the conversation going forward. I thought overall both actually did well. I depart from Jeff on that. I thought both actually did well. I wouldn't be surprised ultimately to see voters on both sides give them a slight up tick. Remember the last debate in 1976, both Carter and Ford got a slight up tick after that. So there wasn't a clear winner, if you will. But let me add one more thing. I thought that particularly on the issue of the economy, neither guy really went as far as he could in laying out an affirmative plan on here's how I'm going to create jobs. I think that was the missed opportunity on both sides.

GREENFIELD: Here is the most surprising thing of the night. Maybe a sign that Kerry's feeling confident. He made a joke about his wife's money. He said both of us married up. And then he realized what he said and said and some people say I've done it a little even better. And I guess I can take that. I don't think I've ever heard John Kerry make a joke about the fact that his wife is a billionaire. Maybe it's a sign of what was missing in this debate. I thought that was the most striking moment of all the debate.

WATSON: I thought it was his best moment. By the way I thought the president was good in talking about his wife as well. Early on, I thought interestingly enough the president did better. Remember we came into this domestic policy debate thinking this would be John Kerry's debate. And early on I thought the president was better including by the way on difficult issues like same-sex marriage and job loss. But as we went along, as we talked about Social Security, as we talked about immigration, as we talked even about the Supreme Court, I thought John Kerry ultimately found his voice. And when all is said and done, I think Kerry will be proclaimed the winner which I think will be significant because I think he'll be viewed as having won all three debates.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go to the reporters who have been covering these candidates now literally for months if not years. John King, Candy Crowley both standing by. John, what did you think?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I thought the humor at the end when the president was talking about his wife, is something his aides have wished had come out more in this series of debates. You see that on the campaign trail quite a bit. His aides can see the president is a better campaigner than he is a debater. They had hoped for more of that throughout this series of debates. The president in his closing statement did essentially what he wants to do in the final days of the campaign. Essentially tell the American people, I haven't done everything I promised I would do but that's because we've been through so much together referring obviously to September 11 attacks and the difficult economy early on in his administration.

His main point tonight was to contrast himself both in policy and in values to say Senator Kerry was to the left of the mainstream. He had perhaps the zinger line of the night saying there's a mainstream in American politics. Senator, you are way out on the left bank, even more liberal than Teddy Kennedy. His aides thought that was the most important thing coming in. I think he was more energized in the last debate, the second debate, more energetic and enthusiastic than he was tonight.

E-mails from Bush operatives during the debate, they say they achieved what they wanted to do. And Wolf, I'll tell you, most of all, they wanted not to be hurt here tonight. They wanted to make up some of the lost momentum. And they want to get back out on the campaign trail on these final 19 days where they think the president is better than Senator Kerry.

BLITZER: Let's get perhaps a little different perspective. Candy Crowley, what did you think?

CROWLEY: I thought it was a bit of a wonk fest. Everybody came with all of their numbers and how many times you voted for this and how many times you did that. Interspersed were some real genuine moments of warmth. I thought when the president particularly was asked about the role of religion in his life, I thought he was pretty effective in that. I thought John Kerry was as well. I thought there were moments when John Kerry could have seized and taken a more personal approach to some of those issues but in general, I think it all did come down, as John said in the closing statements, I think we saw where John Kerry felt both strong and vulnerable because of the closing statement he felt it necessary to say, I want you to know I will never turn the security of this country over to anybody else.

That has clearly been an Achilles heel for him for some time in the polls. And he felt the need again in this final moment to reach out and say, look, here's the deal on that. And then to say I can do a better job of keeping you safe. And I can get us moving again. So I thought in the end we saw what John Kerry felt, were both his strengths and his vulnerability.

BLITZER: Candy and John, stand by. We'll of course be getting back to you. Let's get some perspective and reaction from both of these campaigns. Joining us now in the so-called spin room, Karen Hughes, senior adviser to the president of the United States. Mary Beth Cahill, the campaign manager for the Kerry campaign.

Mary Beth, I'll begin with you. The president, even thought this was mostly on domestic issues, he hammered away that John Kerry simply is going to outsource national security, if you will, to Europeans, to others around the world. And he's not going to do what's in the best national security interests of the United States.

MARY BETH CAHILL, KERRY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think tonight that America saw someone who is ready to be commander-in-chief. Someone who has plans for where he wants to lead this country. I think that he did extraordinarily well. He delivered a faithful and optimistic vision of where the country can go in the future. I think the president had a pretty rough time tonight because he can't acknowledge that any of the problems that the country has from immigration to equal pay to other issues, he was not able to, one, acknowledge the problem, admit a mistake or say where he wants to lead the country. I think it was a very bad night for President Bush.

BLITZER: Didn't you sense, though, that John Kerry missed some opportunities to hammer away on his own going into this debate, Mary Beth Cahill, was he trying to be more positive or was he ready to go for the jugular, if you will?

CAHILL: I think that Senator Kerry saw this as a series of three debates where Americans get to look at both men and take their measure. I think Senator Kerry has a vision for the future. He has plans. He was able to talk about those in a measured fashion. And I think that the American people were very impressed by what they saw tonight.

BLITZER: Mary Beth Cahill from the Kerry campaign. Thank you very much. Karen Hughes of course supports the president of the United States. One of his top advisers, informal as well as formal. The president didn't answer one question directly. Maybe you can answer it for us, Karen Hughes. Does the president support overturning Roe versus Wade on abortion rights for women?

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH SR. CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Wolf, what the president said is he will not have a litmus test. And I think that pointed up a clear contrast with him and Senator Kerry. Senator Kerry virtually acknowledged he will have a litmus test on that issue. The president said that he would appoint judges who would legislate, not try to give their personal opinion from the bench.

And I have to say something about what Mary Beth said. She said Senator Kerry talked about plans. It became very clear tonight he has no plans. He has interminable lists of complaints. Complaint after complaint after complaint. Somebody turned to me in the debate watch room and said, you know, his two-minute answers seem like they take two hours. He also has a bunch of promises he can't pay for. And the last thing I said to the president before he walked on the stage tonight was show people your heart. I think that's exactly what people saw from President Bush tonight. They saw his heart, his passion for issues like education. They saw the reason he wants to be the president for the next four years to improve our education, to create more jobs, to make America safer and more secure.

BLITZER: On one of the sensitive issues involving Osama bin Laden, the president was quoted by John Kerry as saying, a quote that the president himself said in March of 2002, that Osama bin Laden was not necessarily that high of a concern to him. The president said, I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.

The president didn't remember that quote, did he?

HUGHES: Wolf, the context of that quote was that Osama bin Laden has been marginalized and is no longer able to run the terrorist network that he once led because three-quarters of his key leaders and operatives have been capture or killed by this president's policy. And so America is safer. Now, Senator Kerry throughout these three debates has perpetuated this myth, and frankly it's a falsehood that we let Osama bin Laden slip away at Tora Bora. Tommy Franks, who was the general in charge of that operation has said over and over again that is simply not true.

That on that day he had reports that Osama bin Laden was in three different place, not just Tora Bora. And had he known where he was, we would have gotten him. He had the resources, the equipment he needed in order to catch him if we were able to do that. We will get him. We're on the hunt. We've got almost 17,000 American troops in Afghanistan right now looking for Osama bin Laden. And we will capture him. But the mastermind, the person in his organization who masterminded the operation of September 11th has been brought to justice as have three-quarters of his main leaders and operatives.

BLITZER: Karen Hughes, from the president's campaign, thanks very much for spending a few moments with us on this historic night.

Our Bill Schneider has been doing a fact check throughout this 90-minute debate together with a team of CNN reporters, producer, researchers.

What did you come up with so far the initial fact check, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Let's list on the what President Bush did say tonight in the debate about his commitment to eliminating Osama bin Laden.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. That's kind of one of those exaggerations. Of course we're worried about Osama Bin laden. We're on the hunt after Osama bin Laden.


SCHNEIDER: Now, here's what President Bush said in the interview you just mentioned on March 13th, 2002, to CNN's Kelly Wallace.


KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Arrest of bin Laden (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will truly be eliminated, that he'll be found either dead or alive?

BUSH: Well, as I said, we hadn't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, you know, again, I don't know where he is. I repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he's on the run. I was concerned about him when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban.


SCHNEIDER: Now, here's something that Senator Kerry said about the number of Americans who have lost, in his words, lost their health insurance. Here's what he said.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This really underscores the problem with the American health care system. Is it not working for the American family. And it's gotten worse under President Bush over the course of the last years. Five million Americans have lost their health insurance in this country.


SCHNEIDER: Senator Kerry was correct about 5.2 million Americans did not -- more Americans did not have health insurance from 2001 to 2003. But it's not quite correct to say they lost their coverage. A sizable portion of that number may be new workers or immigrants who moved to the United States since Bush took office. And they may previously not have had health insurance.

Now, two other small points. One is Senator Kerry did mention that Bush is the first president not to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus. In point of fact, President Bush did meet twice, according to our research with the Congressional Black Caucus. First on January 31st, 2001 shortly after he took office. And most recently in February of this year to discuss the crisis in Haiti.

Finally President Bush charged tonight as he has in the past that Senator Kerry voted 98 times to raise taxes. That number is somewhat inflated because in addition to up or down votes on a piece of legislation to raise taxes, it includes all votes on those pieces of legislation, procedural votes, votes to end debate. So yes, there were 98 votes, but it wasn't 98 tax hikes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Bill Schneider, thanks very much. Of course, in the coming hours and days, CNN will continue to take a look at the facts. What was said, what may not necessarily have been all that accurate.

A group of voters was watching very closely in Columbus, Ohio. Our Bill Hemmer is there. He was watching along with them. And Bill, tell our viewers how they were watching, what they were doing and what they came up with.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The company is known as Better Decisions, and they give us these meters here -- Wolf. And they're labeled one through 10. Ten being the strongest positive reaction, one being the strongest negative reaction. Over the course of 90 minutes, you can literally watch the meter move on the screen. The women are in yellow. The men are in blue. Just like the previous three times we've done this here on the campus of Ohio State University. We picked out two segments from the previous debate. One from the president, one from Senator Kerry where we could truly see the meter move. For the president, I want to show you a sample here of when he talked about crime and gun laws in the U.S. watch now.


BUSH: I believe law abiding citizens ought to be able to own a gun. I believe in background checks at gun shows or anywhere to make sure that guns don't get in the hands of people who shouldn't have them. The best way to protect our citizens from guns is to prosecute those who commit crimes with guns.


HEMMER: You can watch the meter move on that. For Senator Kerry when he talked about the minimum wage, we saw a strong spike and steady spike for him, too. Watch here.


KERRY: We have fought to try to raise the minimum wage in the last years, but the Republican leadership of the house and Senate won't even let us have a vote on it. We're not allowed to vote on it. They don't want to raise the minimum wage. The minimum wage is the lowest value it has been in our nation in 50 years.


HEMMER: Back here on campus, 24 men and women, some undecided, some not so after tonight. I want to see a show of viewers at home, who in 20 days will vote for President Bush, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Now, for Senator Kerry. Who will vote for John Kerry on November 2nd, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

Now who is undecided still at this point? One, two, three, four, five, six seven still undecided. We've got some work to do.

Natasha, why are you still undecided? What did you not hear tonight?

NATASHA LAWHORN, SOCIAL WORKER: I didn't hear a good enough answer about the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries. What they plan to do about it.

HEMMER: So, you wanted to get more on that.

LAWHORN: Yes, I wanted to get more.

HEMMER: Hand that to Todd. And while you do, lets go back and Laura.

Why are you still undecided after tonight?

LAURA DODGE, MEDICAL CLERK: I would still like more details about affordable health care plans for the future.

HEMMER: They talked about health care tonight but not enough for your liking.

DODGE: Not enough details.

HEMMER: Todd where are you?

TODD FOWLER, CAR SALES: I saw President Bush is taking care of us on the war of terror but not at home. And Kerry more focusing on home but maybe being weaker on the terror. So, it's still got me right in the middle.

HEMMER: Did this debate push you any closer to a decision or are you truly right there at the middle mark.

FOWLER: Truly right there. HEMMER: You have 20 days to make up your mind.

Thanks, you've been wonderful tonight. Also to the campus of Ohio State University for helping us out with these past four debates.

Back to, Wolf, now on Tempe, Arizona. Twenty days and counting, Wolf. Back to you now.

BLITZER: All right, we're counting. We'll be watching every single moment. Very, very interesting. Thanks very much Bill Hemmer for doing these -- these assessments for us with these voters in Columbus, Ohio.

Just note to our viewers. At around 11:30 p.m. Eastern during a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup will have a new poll, an instant poll that will be released with an assessment. With an assessment poll numbers what the American public thought. That's coming up in about an hour, in about 45 minute, actually, from now during the special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE."

Judy Woodruff is in the spin room. Is everybody spinning like crazy already in there, Judy?

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that's what they do in the spin room, Wolf. It is very interesting. There is very intense reaction tonight. This debate counts for a lot. The Kerry people seem to be very happy. They are going around saying is it three for three, that John Kerry has won the third debate. They're saying that he had the president on the ropes on the question of jobs, on the question of health care.

The Bush people, for their part, are saying they exposed John Kerry. That John Kerry claimed that he had passed 56 bills. They say is it only five bills and four resolutions. The Bush people are answering questions, Wolf, I'll tell you, about what the president had to say about flu shots.

It's interesting. There seems to be a lot of discussion about whether that was the best answer to give. And there's also a fair amount of discussion about the president's demeanor. Some you hear some people saying they thought the president did better in the last two-thirds of the debate than the first one-third. But I think the bottom line is neither side is willing to acknowledge that the other guy won. The Kerry people very happy.

BLITZER: All right. Judy Woodruff in the spin room, thanks very much. Let's bring back our analyst and our reporters.

Jeff Greenfield, I'm going to ask you a question. Put you on the spot. If everybody tonight will be asking as soon as you leave this set here at Arizona State University, you can tell our viewers right now what you think. Who won this debate?

GREENFIELD: I have to answer that question this way?

BLITZER: Everybody else will ask you that question. GREENFIELD: I know. And I hate doing this, because I think it really takes 48 hours to know what the public thinks. I think to the extent that the Republicans were looking for the president to lay the heavy lumber on John Kerry, that did not happen. And so if we've gone through these last ten days with Kerry slowly moving up on Bush, I don't see anything in this debate will change that. But I sure don't think this was John Kerry's strongest debate either.

I'm not trying to waffle. I think neither one of those candidates did themselves as much good as they could have. I think that by default that gives that to Kerry, because that's where the campaign seemed to be drifting. Not moving quickly, drifting.

BLITZER: Carlos, who won?

WATSON: I'll accept Jeff's analysis. And I'll say that Kerry won. And that Kerry is now 3 for 3. But significantly, I'll point out that 4 years ago, arguably, the president won all three debates, ended up, depending on which poll you believed, up by 5 or as much as 11. And 2 1/2 or 3 weeks later lost the popular vote by 500,000. So, this is the third quarter not the fourth quarter. Forget me for the sports analogy. But the debates are extraordinarily important, but they're not definitive.

GREENFIELD: This turnout issue, which we always talk about, and it is usually bunk. This year I think is more critical than any time I've ever seen it. If there are 12 million more people going to the polls on November 2, nothing that these polls are measuring now is going to be worth very much.

WATSON: You know, Wolf, I will say this, the president's answer on the 18th question where he was asked about faith and politics, that answer to that is going to be extraordinarily inspirational to evangelical Christians. If you are an evangelical Christian out there, listening to that answer a lot. That's going to help with turnout. Remember, they believe some 4 million evangelical Christians didn't show up at the polls in 2000.

BLITZER: John King and Candy Crowley, I think I saw both of you shaking your heads a little bit during this last exchange with Jeff and Carlos.

Candy, first to you. Were you shaking your head? What was going through your mind?

CROWLEY: I'm not sure I thought it was a -- well, first of all, let me tell you what the Kerry people are saying. They're saying that it is clearly 3-0 now, that he's won 3 debates. They have said previously there was no time in history that a president has lost three debates or an incumbent has lost three debates. They are very happy with the amount of attention that healthcare was given, because they believe that's an issue that always cuts their way.

They also believe that they accomplished one other thing. And that is, that John Kerry showed some of his human side. They say that came out when he talked about his mother, which is a story he has told previously on the campaign trail, at least early on, about his mother, talking about integrity.

And also in that last crank about we all married up, where you kind of heard this pause and then the audience sort of -- you heard them kind of get into it, obviously. John Kerry married a billionaire ketchup heiress.

So he sort of gave this nod like you know, OK, bring it on. I can take it. They like that. They think he showed his human side which is something that isn't always there.

I thought, as Carlos did and said earlier, that the president did very well on the faith question, and also when they talked about the women in their lives. I thought those were two really telling moments for both of them. I'm not sure I would call this a win.

And I'm also mindful that after the second debate, which everyone thought that John Kerry had won, not much happened in those polls. I just wonder if we're going to go anywhere.

BLITZER: A good point indeed, even if someone wins this debate, and we'll know obviously in the next few days, doesn't necessarily mean it will be translated to an up tick in the poll numbers. We don't know, obviously, what's going to happen on November 2 itself.

John, what was going through your mind?

KING: Wolf, the Bush campaign looking forward looks at the states in play. Look at Minnesota, look at Iowa, look at West Virginia, look at Ohio, look at Pennsylvania, look at Colorado. And what the Bush campaign believes is that rural America, communities that were formerly Democratic for years are the key to the president's success. And they think in that part of America, his answers on gay marriage, on abortion, about the role of prayer in his life, the values discussion more than the policy discussion, will help the president enormously there.

They believe it helped him 4 years ago when winning West Virginia. It made him president of the United States, a traditionally Democratic state. They believe it will be helpful.

Jeff used the term lumber. I do think Republicans will agree that the president was not emphatic or focused enough in doing as much as he wanted to call the Senate record into play, and put the liberal label on Senator Kerry. The Bush campaign is saying it believes it did succeed in that regard.

Coming into the debates, a senior Bush adviser, I asked, what do you think of these debates? He said, I want to check the box. By that, he meant get the debates and get them over with, because, again, they believe president is much more effective speaking out on the stump, out on the campaign trail. They certainly do not want to be judged as losing all 3 debates. And if that is the result of the polling tonight, they will have to answer for that tomorrow. But they will answer for that with the president out on the road, where he is clearly more comfortable, and where they believe he can be successful. And they would argue, even after the polls say he lost the first 2, they thought the electoral map is just slightly, ever so slightly, still tilted in his favor.

We will see. I think Jeff says look for 48 hours for how the debate plays out. Let's look in 72, maybe 96 hours, to see what the electoral map looks like.

BLITZER: All right, John King, Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

Jeff Greenfield, Carlos Watson, there's no doubt that the next what, 2 1/2, almost 3 weeks is going to be a powerful moment in this campaign for both of these campaigns to really go after the other.

GREENFIELD: I want the Maalox concession at both campaigns, because they both have much to be have nervous about. The states they have to have in both cases are shaky. And we've been saying for months, this is a campaign where outside events are going to push. You've got 20 days, no more debates, people are tired of the ads, and both campaigns are holding their collective breaths wondering what is coming over the next hill, what's around the next corner that could turn this whole campaign.

BLITZER: Carlos, there will be no rest for the weary.

WATSON: No rest for the weary. In fact, besides the outside events that we can't plan. Three things people should think about. Watch the advertising. If it becomes emotional, if it connects, if they're testimonial ads and they're very effective, that could make a difference.

Number two, watch how good the surrogates are. Is Dick Cheney very good, is Laura Bush very good, John Edwards very good?

And last but not least, I'd actually watch several of the shows like our own "LARRY KING LIVE" or even Oprah Winfrey's show or "60 Minutes," those are places where you can still get 10 to 20 million to watch a major conversation. This is the last chance you have to get 40 million or 50 million, but that's still a significant opportunity. And don't underestimate that.

BLITZER: All right. We have more coverage coming up. In fact, here on CNN, we're only just beginning. A special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" standing by, Larry standing by. Remember, at around 11:30 p.m. Eastern, half an hour or so from now, there will be a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll that will be released.

And also remember November 2, special CNN coverage of election day will be at the NASDAQ in New York City, Times Square. For our coverage, this will be something unique in CNN television history.

We'll take a quick break. Much more from Tempe, Arizona and Arizona State University when we come back.



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