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Interview With Pat Robertson; Interview With Bill Maher

Aired October 19, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. Welcome to PRIME TIME POLITICS. Glad to you have with us tonight.
In the world of politics, they are at opposite poles, two people whose views could not be more different. Tonight, Pat Robertson and humorist Bill Maher sound off on the campaign trail.

And politics, abortion and the Catholic Church. Have John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Mario Cuomo and others been branded as heretics?

Joining me now, my special guest, Reverend Pat Robertson, founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network and the author of the new book "Courting Disaster: How the Supreme Court is Usurping the Power of Congress and the People."

Always good to see you. Welcome.

PAT ROBERTSON, AUTHOR, "COURTING DISASTER": Well, it's great to see you.

ZAHN: Thank you. I wanted to start off by repeating something you said back in January about the president.


ZAHN: When you said: "The lord has just blessed him. I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and come out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad. God picks him up, because he's a man of prayer and God is blessing him."

Are you suggesting that God wants George W. Bush to win?

ROBERTSON: Well, I just think -- he loves him. I mean, George Bush is a man of prayer. He talks to the lord. He tries to get his direction from the lord.

And, you know, Randall Brooks (ph), who played Annie, said about me some years ago when I was running for president, said, I would rather have a man who believes in a higher power than a man who thinks he is the higher power. And I think that George Bush really is a very godly person. And I


ZAHN: Are you suggesting that John Kerry thinks he has the higher power here? ROBERTSON: John Kerry is swimming upstream on this one as far as his elders in the Catholic Church, I think. They're not too happy with him, what I gather. But I'm not one of the Catholic hierarchy, so I can't say.

But I just think that Bush is a very good man. He's a man of prayer, a man of deep faith. And, to me, that's very admirable.

ZAHN: If you're not a Republican, can you be a Christian?

ROBERTSON: Well, I was a Democrat for about 55 years, so I guess so. You know, the party left us. The Democratic Party went far to the left, I think, and left some of us stranded on the beach, so we went to the Republican Party.

ZAHN: But there are a lot of Christians out there who take umbrage at what you're saying. There is this magazine called "Sojourners" magazine.


ZAHN: Which, by its admission, is a liberal Christian magazine.


ROBERTSON: Semi-socialist.

ZAHN: But they're running an ad right now that rebuts your claim that God has taken a side in this election.

They say -- quote -- "We believe that claims of divine appointment for the president, uncritical affirmation of his policies, and assertions that all Christians must vote for his reelection constitute bad theology and dangerous religion."

ROBERTSON: I would never say somebody had to vote for anybody. That would be terrible. I haven't said that.

I just said, I think God's blessing him, and I think it's one of those things that, even if he stumbles and messes up -- and he's had his share of goofs and gaffes -- I just think God's blessing is on him. And you remember, I think the Chinese used to say, you know, it's the blessing of heaven on the emperor. And I think the blessing of heaven is on Bush. It's just the way it is.

ZAHN: Even you have just admitted that the president has made some gaffes.

ROBERTSON: Yes, absolutely.

ZAHN: That he's made some blunders. But, as a Christian, aren't you supposed to admit your mistakes, acknowledge them, and move on?


ROBERTSON: You better believe it. I admit mine all the time. ZAHN: But the president hasn't done that.

ROBERTSON: He should.


ZAHN: He's been posed repeatedly in debates, what mistakes have you made? He's been asked that on the campaign trail and he hasn't come up with any.

ROBERTSON: I met with him down in Nashville before the Gulf War started. And he was the most self-assured man I ever met in my life.

You remember, Mark Twain said, he looks like a contended Christian with four aces. He was just sitting there, like, I'm on top of the world, and I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, Mr. President, you better prepare the American people for casualties.

Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties. Well, I said, it's the way it's going to be. And so, it was messy. The lord told me it was going to be, A, a disaster and, B, messy. And before that, I had deep, in my spirit, I had deep misgivings about going into Iraq.

ZAHN: You just told me...


ZAHN: As I asked you that question that you wished the president had admitted to the American public he's made these mistakes.

ROBERTSON: Well, sure.

ZAHN: Why don't you think he has?

ROBERTSON: I don't know this politics game. You can never say you're wrong, because the opposition grabs on it. And, you see, he admitted he screwed up. And so I don't know. But...

ZAHN: But, as someone who has run for president, you know this game better than just about anybody.



ZAHN: When you felt that you had the lord telling you that this was going to be a very bad thing to go into Iraq and you warned the president about it, he seemed to be dismissive.

ROBERTSON: Well, I warned him about casualties.

ZAHN: Of the casualties.

Where do you think that came from? Do you think he got bad advice? Do you think he was ignoring some of the advice he had gotten? What is it?

ROBERTSON: I just think he was so sure that this man was a tyrant, he was evil and he needed to be taken out. I mean, he just felt it.

Of course, he had advisers, the so-called neocons, around him that said, Mr. President, go get him, and we will liberate these oppressed people.

ZAHN: There are a lot of neoconservatives...


ZAHN: ... who believe that the president hasn't edited a lot of the advice he has been given.

Four million evangelicals sat out the last election.


ZAHN: Some are very alienated by the record deficit that this president has run up. They're not crazy about the idea of larger government under his presidency. And, like you, they were very concerned about this war. Will they sit out this election?

ROBERTSON: I don't think so. I think they're very passionate.

Really, basically, in the last election, they didn't quite trust his daddy. They thought that he wasn't really with him and they weren't sure what junior was going to do. This time, they're solidly in his camp.

ZAHN: How can they be if they're opposed to him on those four major issues?

ROBERTSON: Well, you know, you don't run against perfection. It's two fallible people. So it's either the lesser of the evil or the best of second -- the best -- whatever.

And I think you have to lead. I don't think Kerry has got that stuff. I don't think he's a leader. I think he's a ponderous debater, a good senator, probably.

ZAHN: A good senator, probably?

ROBERTSON: He ought to stay in the Senate.


ZAHN: So you like his record in the Senate?

ROBERTSON: Stay in there all he wants to. No problem.

I hate to give the reverend orders here. I need a real short answer to this.


ZAHN: How close is this election going to be?

ROBERTSON: I thought it was going to be a blowout, but I think it's razor thin now. But the president, in my opinion, in the next couple of weeks -- we only got two more weeks -- is going to pull ahead of Kerry and I think he will have a substantial Electoral College victory when it's all over.

ZAHN: Kerry, the admitted nice man and good senator.


ROBERTSON: The president as in B-U-S-H Bush.


ZAHN: Pat Robertson, always good to see you. Thank you for your time tonight.

ROBERTSON: Thanks, Paula.


ZAHN (voice-over): There's much more ahead on PRIME TIME POLITICS.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am a Catholic. I grew up a Catholic. I was an altar boy. And my faith affects everything that I do and choose.

ZAHN: He practices his faith and preaches pro-choice politics. But conservative Catholics say he can't have it both ways. John Kerry and the Catholic vote.

Also, our voting booth question of the day: Does a candidate's faith affect your vote? Go to our Web site at

And biting wit.

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": I think that should be his slogan, strong and wrong.

ZAHN: Slashing sarcasm.

MAHER: The lesser of two evils looks pretty good to me right now.

ZAHN: Tonight, I'll spend some real time with Bill Maher.



ZAHN: The three presidential debates may have helped John Kerry's standing with Catholic voters. According to a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, after the last debate, Senator Kerry pulled even with President Bush among Catholics, but even among Catholics, there's a deep divide.

The poll shows that while Kerry leads among those who attend church infrequently, the president has a 34-point lead among those who attend church regularly. Some of those regular Catholic churchgoers may have found this pamphlet waiting for them offering advice on voting according to Catholic moral teaching. The pamphlet tells Catholic not to consider any candidate who supports any of the five what is called non-negotiable issues, including abortion. Senator Kerry is, of course, pro-choice.

And here is our Tom Foreman on the attack Senator Kerry is facing from members of his own faith.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest attack on how John Kerry practices Catholicism is coming from an anti- abortion activist in Los Angeles who wants the senator excommunicated for supporting abortion rights.

MARC BALESTRIERI, CANON LAWYER: Senator Kerry, like any other pro-choice Catholic politician, has the right to choose to be Catholic or not. But if he does choose to be Catholic, he cannot support publicly abortion.

FOREMAN: Kerry, who is called devoutly Catholic by friends, may be drawing attacks because he is being more public with his faith. Early in his campaign, he rarely mentioned God.

KERRY: I am a Catholic.

FOREMAN: Now he often explains how his Catholicism will fit into his presidency.

KERRY: An article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith.

FOREMAN: But Kerry has been under fire from some Catholics for month.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Kerry, you're against the teachings of the Catholic Church.

FOREMAN: Over the summer, 16 bishops suggested any elected Catholic leader who supports abortion rights should not take communion.

FATHER WILLIAM MAESTRI, ARCHDIOCESE OF NEW ORLEANS: Simply because you are an elected official, you do not have a pass on the fundamental obligation that you have to protect innocent human life.

FOREMAN (on camera): Catholics, however, disagree with those bishops about 3-1 and they have demonstrated that in poll after poll. (voice-over): They have overwhelmingly said that Catholic voters have no obligation to back anti-abortion candidates, that the church's position will make no difference in how they vote, and that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should still get communion.

FATHER THOMAS REESE, EDITOR, "AMERICAN": We're talking about less than a handful of bishops that have said that John Kerry can't go to communion in their diocese. The real headline should be, 180 bishops do not say John Kerry can't go to communion in their diocese.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no article of my faith that would in any way inhibit...

FOREMAN: Forty-four years ago, the nation's only Catholic president, John Kennedy, had to persuade voters his faith would not dictate his policies. Now John Kerry must deal with a vocal minority in his own church that says defend the faith to the letter or get out.


ZAHN: And that was our Tom Foreman reporting for us tonight.

One prominent church leader who has been highly critical of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights is Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. And in a recent interview, he said -- quote -- "One cannot be a pro-choice Catholic. There are Catholics who don't understand that."

Archbishop Charles Chaput joins me now from Denver.

Good of you to join us, sir. Welcome.


ZAHN: So is it a sin for a Catholic voter to vote for John Kerry, who is pro-choice?

CHAPUT: I don't think I can answer that question.

What I would say, it's a sin for Catholics to violate their conscience in their voting, and I think it's important for Catholics to form their conscience according to what their church believes. So I think someone who votes for pro-abortion candidates could be sinning, but I don't think I can answer the question the way you put it.

ZAHN: Hasn't there been a memo that has gone out to the Vatican to the archbishop of D.C. suggesting that if a Catholic is against abortion, but there are other issues that outweigh that issue in their life, that it's OK to vote for that candidate?

CHAPUT: What the document from Cardinal Ratzinger actually said was, a person could, under some certain circumstances, the circumstances was for a proportionate reason, possibly vote for a pro- choice candidate. But I think for most of us who understand our faith, it's hard to imagine anything proportionate to the more than 40 million unborn children killed by abortions since Roe v. Wade. So it's a matter of proportionate reason, and what is proportionate to that?

ZAHN: I would like for you to look at a poll that was done recently examining attitudes of Catholics towards abortion. And it shows that by a 3-1 margin, likely Catholic voters say they do not have a religious obligation to vote pro-life.

And, in fact, in the past three presidential elections, Catholics have actually voted for the pro-choice candidate. How do you read that?

CHAPUT: Well, I think, in some cases, people aren't aware of the stands of the candidates. And in other situations, people don't understand the fundamental and foundational issue that abortion is for us.

I think some people are more faithful to their party than to their faith. And there's a lot of reasons for it. But I think, at the beginning of this segment of your program, there were statistics about people who go to church and practice their faith, and they're very much concerned about the abortion issue.

ZAHN: You obviously care very deeply about the sanctity of human life. Do you have a problem with the fact that President Bush supports the death penalty?

CHAPUT: I do. Yes, I do.

ZAHN: And, in your judgment, is that as big of a problem as John Kerry supporting the right to choose?


CHAPUT: Well, I'm not really here to talk about the candidates. I'm here to talk about the positions of the church.

And, for us, abortion is intrinsically evil. Sometimes, in certain circumstances, it could -- we could make the judgment that the death penalty could be allowed. In the Western world, with the possibility of incarcerating people in a permanent way, it's hard to imagine when it would be necessary.

But abortion is intrinsically evil. The death penalty is contingently so, so that they don't have the same moral weight. And there's a hierarchy of issues here. And the church is against the death penalty. The church is against abortion, but abortion is a much more foundational issue for us.

ZAHN: Is it meaningful for you that John Kerry as a Catholic has said he is personally opposed to abortion, but he doesn't want to impose his views on others?

CHAPUT: Well, you know, I think that would be an OK position to take on issues that aren't as foundational.

You know, when someone performs an abortion, somebody gets killed. And I think it would be wrong for any of us to say that we don't want to impose our view about killing on others. We do that all the time in the legislation of our country. Actually, all legislation is one group imposing its view on another.

ZAHN: So, based on what you're telling me tonight, Archbishop, do you believe there's only one way to vote in this election, and that is for President Bush, based on what you're telling me about abortion tonight?

CHAPUT: I think there's one way to vote in any election, and that is vote against abortion and against the choice for abortion. The application of that in particular instances is up to voters, and people have to make the decision.

But the position of the church is, abortion is intrinsically evil, always wrong, a horrible crime. It's something that cries out to God for vengeance. It's a human rights issue that's very important for us to focus on and bring our country to focus on continually. I'm not in a position of telling people who to vote for or how to vote. But I know that Catholics vote their conscience, and their conscience is against abortion in all circumstances.

ZAHN: We appreciate your explaining your point of view this evening, Archbishop Chaput.

CHAPUT: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you so much for your time.

And that brings us to our voting booth question of the night: Does a candidate's faith affect your vote? Go to and have your say. The results at the end of the hour.

And with just 14 days from the finish line, the candidates continue hammering away at each other, looking for that critical edge, but how accurate are their accusations? Our campaign fact-check straight out of the break.


ZAHN: You already know this. This is true. There are just two weeks left until Election Day, but can we believe anything else they're telling us out there on the campaign trail?

Well, just this week, the candidates have traded accusations about privatizing Social Security and the president causing the flu vaccine shortage.

Joining me now from our D.C. bureau to a little fact-checking is Doyle McManus. He's "The Los Angeles Times" Washington bureau chief.

Welcome, Doyle. Always good to see you.

DOYLE MCMANUS, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Good to be with you, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you.

So we're going to start off tonight by listening to the president deliver a blistering attack on Senator John Kerry yesterday in New Jersey.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Kerry's approach would permit a response only after America is hit.


ZAHN: All right, a lot of Democrats, Doyle, have admitted they wish that John Kerry had never talked about a global test, but they say, give us a break. A sentence earlier, he made it very clear, the president has to have the authority to take preemptive action. So is that a stretch on the president's part?

MCMANUS: It is a stretch, because John Kerry has said throughout the campaign that he does believe in preemptive action where it's warranted, but, boy, he left himself open with that one phrase of a global test.

ZAHN: What would you call that, a stretch, a lie? What is the gradation?

MCMANUS: I think I would call it a misrepresentation. And that's what we're seeing on both sides at this point in the campaign, not so much character attacks, not so much lies, as knowing misrepresentation of the other guy's position.

ZAHN: And Senator Kerry, as you've just said, playing it tough out there, particularly on the issue of Social Security.

Let's listen to what he had to say on the campaign trail.


NARRATOR: Now Bush has a plan that cuts Social Security benefits by 30 percent to 45 percent. The real Bush agenda, cutting Social Security.


ZAHN: That's an ad, but, obviously, the senator has also been saying that out there on the campaign stump. The president has said repeatedly, if he's reelected, he will not cut Social Security benefits. What's the truth here?

MCMANUS: And I think, this time, Senator Kerry's side is guilty of a real stretcher, because the president, No. 1, doesn't even have a plan. That's what drives the reporters who cover Social Security nuts. That number, 30 to 45, is something George Bush has never said. He had a commission that studied the question. One of its options would have reduced the rate of growth in Social Security benefits, so that people who are now in their 20s and 30s would be looking at benefits 30 or 40 years down the line that would be lower than they would expect if the formula doesn't change.

But it's not going to cut the benefits of anybody who's getting Social Security now or even anybody my age.

ZAHN: OK, on to another ad now, this one from the Bush camp on the issue of health care.


NARRATOR: John Kerry and liberals in Congress have a health care plan for you, a big government takeover.


ZAHN: The Kerry camp calls that an outright lie. Is it?

MCMANUS: Well, it's another big stretcher, because what Senator Kerry's plan would do would be to subsidize, to use taxpayers funds to subsidize a lot of people, but they would be buying private health insurance from insurance companies, just like folks who work for the government who are in Congress or who work for big companies get.

So it would be private health insurance, just with government- funded help.

ZAHN: There's another issue out there that is a big concern to a lot of folks in America right now. It is a shortage of the flu vaccine. Here is what the senator had to say about that over the weekend.


KERRY: Now, because of this administration's failure of leadership, failure of judgment, because of their failure to act, we've got a shortfall of some 48 million flu vaccines in our country.


ZAHN: So, Doyle, could the president alone have stopped this from happening?

MCMANUS: If the president had been the smartest man in America and when nobody else in Congress hardly, nobody else in the bureaucracy realized this problem might be on the horizon, yes. Two or three years ago, he could have gone to Congress and said, let's come up with a program to do this. But President Bush didn't have it figured out. But, to be fair, neither did Senator Kerry or the Democrats.

ZAHN: So it's a shared blame here of the president and Congress?

MCMANUS: Well, if we were in a just world, it would be a shared blame. But these are the closing days of a campaign, and this is what happens.

Both candidates are trying to sharpen the differences, drive up the negatives of their opponents, and get their own supporters whipped up to go to the polls.

ZAHN: I can hardly wait to see what doozies we'll see in the closing weeks of this campaign.

Doyle McManus, thanks for educating us tonight. Appreciate it.

MCMANUS: Thank you.

ZAHN: And just ahead, the war on terror and 9/11 move to the front line of the campaign ad wars. What victims' families think about that in just a moment.


ZAHN: And welcome back.

We turn now to the war on terror and some horrifying pictures. They show the actual explosions at one of the Spanish train stations that terrorists attacked on March 11. A total of 10 bombs exploded that day, killing 191 people and wounding more than 1,800.

A Spanish TV network leaked the tape today. It is, of course, a stark reminder of the importance of the war on terrorism, a war that has assumed a central place in the U.S. presidential campaign.


ZAHN (voice-over): Polls show that the war on terrorism is many voters' main issue. That's especially true among women, security moms. President Bush is going out of his way to reassure them.

BUSH: The most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people. If America shows uncertainty or weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch.

ZAHN: The president then continues his daily attacks on Senator Kerry.

BUSH: Instead of articulating a vision or positive agenda for the future, the senator is relying on a litany of complaints, an old- style scare tactic.

ZAHN: The Democrats are firing the scare tactics charge right back at the president's speech.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's filled with the politics of fear and hard-line attacks on John Kerry, false attacks on John Kerry.

ZAHN: Kerry's aides say a major speech about the war on terror is coming tomorrow. We seem to be getting a preview today. KERRY: Let me make it clear: I will fight a tougher, smarter, more effective war on terror, and we will make America safer in the world!

ZAHN: The war on terror has also become a focus in the TV ad wars. This one features a girl whose mother died on 9/11, and who was comforted by the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our president took Ashley in his arms and just embraced her, and it was at that moment that we saw Ashley's eyes fill up with tears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's the most powerful man in the world, and all he wanted to do is make sure I'm safe, that I'm OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I saw was what I want to see in the heart and in the soul of the man who sits in the highest elected office in our country.

ZAHN: And the Kerry campaign's response, from a woman whose husband was killed on 9/11.

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, HUSBAND DIED ON 9/11: I fought for the 9/11 Commission, something George W. Bush, the man my husband Ron and I voted for, didn't think was necessary. And during the commission hearings, we learned the truth. We are no safer today. I want to look in my daughter's eyes and know that she is safe, and that is why I am voting for John Kerry.

KERRY: I'm John Kerry, and I approve this ad.


ZAHN: And two people who lost family members on 9/11 are Charles Wolf, a Bush supporter who lost his wife that day, and Mindy Kleinberg, a Kerry supporter who lost her husband. They both join me tonight to talk about the candidates' focus on terror.

Good to have both of you with us.


ZAHN: Sorry to have to make you talk about this.

I know you were offended by the Kerry ad. Why?

WOLF: The text was read to me over the phone. I didn't get to see it until just now, but I felt that the problem with the ad was that it didn't tell the whole story.

ZAHN: What part of the story was missed?

WOLF: It didn't tell the part of the story that -- that the administration complied with everything the commission asked for. Everything. And they give every document and Governor Keane even said they did. ZAHN: It took awhile to get those documents turned over to that commission. You have to admit that.

WOLF: Well, there were that, and I'm not how much of that was people thinking they were protecting the president from -- from whatever. I don't know exactly, but I do know that in the end, they got everything they asked for.

ZAHN: Mindy, I was surprised to hear your reaction as you watched the Bush ad, because we made it clear you are, in fact, supporting John Kerry. You were moved by that ad?

MINDY KLEINBERG, HUSBAND DIED ON 9/11: You know, I think...

ZAHN: I think anybody watching would be moved. But that's not your candidate.

KLEINBERG: You know what? I have three children who lost a parent on that day, and so I understand the pain that Ashley felt. And I would have given anything for my kids to feel that feeling of safety that she had. But what she got was a hug, and what we really needed to feel safer were answers and real reforms.

And as somebody who spent three years with Kristen, who was in the ad, down in Washington fighting for the independent commission, fighting to get the documents that they eventually, under extreme pressure, finally handed over, fighting to have the president come and testify and talk about, you know, what happened, what went wrong and how can we fix it, you know.

I think that this administration is very good as evoking a feeling, whether it's safety or sadness or fear. But when it comes to real information, when it comes to facts, they've given us stonewalling and foot dragging, and you know, that's not going to make us safe.

ZAHN: Charles, I know you don't feel that way about the Bush administration now, but I'm wondering on any level, because your feelings are still of loss, are still so raw today. If you find both of these ads exploitive? In some way?

WOLF: As I told someone one time, I says, you know, "Did September 11 happen?" Yes. It's a central piece of how we're judging the next president, either President Bush or Senator Kerry. It's a central piece on that. So you can't ignore the elephant that's in the room. And so it is absolutely fair game to talk about September 11, to talk about what has happened.

I mean, you know, the administration has done a number of things. I mean, Homeland Security Department, for one thing.

ZAHN: A department that the president himself was personally opposed to, in the beginning.

WOLF: In the beginning. But I've watched the president. And mind you, of course, I don't know the president personally, but I've watched him, and I know that he will ask his -- his subordinates to study something and bring the recommendations back, rather than making a snap judgment on something.

ZAHN: Are you concerned about all of the noise about -- out there about your candidate, perhaps not being willing to take preemptive action against terrorists? Now, we know that a lot of -- that the three sentences that he uttered have been misinterpreted and misconstrued. Your personal thoughts?

KLEINBERG: You know, I think that's rhetoric. That's what, you know, the opponent wants you to believe about him, and -- but I think that if you listen to him and you heard his message, it is clear that he is going to be tough on terror.

But he also understands that it was al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden that attacked this country, that murdered 3,000 people. He knows that we can't just let Iraq be lost, but he will bring it back to the fight against the terrorists.

ZAHN: Well, we appreciate both of your joining us tonight, both of your perspectives. And we're so sorry about both of your losses. Thank you.

WOLF: Thanks.

ZAHN: Thanks for sharing your stories with us tonight. Mindy Kleinberg and Charles Wolf.

This election will be the first under some new rules, rules that are supposed to guarantee that eligible voters are not turned away because of a technicality. But in one electoral battleground, they can't even decide on what those rules mean. That's coming up next.

And a little later on, the anything but gentle humor of Bill Maher. He'll be joining us.


ZAHN: We have new polling numbers to share with you tonight from the battleground site of Oregon. Seven electoral votes are at stake there. And our latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll of registered voters has Senator Kerry ahead by seven points. And it's about the same among likely voters.

Also on the ballot in Oregon is a referendum that would define marriage as a union only between a man and a woman, and our poll shows that Oregon voters favor that measure by nine points among registered voters and six among likely voters.

Now, in Oregon and states across the country, heightened interest in this election has meant record numbers of new voters signing up to make themselves heard on November 2. And while the mess in Florida in the year 2000 forced us to focus on failures in the vote-counting system, this time around there is another potential system crash out there. Tonight, as we begin our series, "Making Your Vote Count," Kelli Arena shows us how one battleground state is struggling to keep up with the flood of new voter registrations.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good afternoon. Board of elections.

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Columbus, Ohio, county board of election staffers are working six days a week, 24 hours a day to process voter registrations. The state is likely to break records for turnout in November. But voter rights activist Bill Faith calls it a sad situation.

BILL FAITH, COALITION ON HOMELESSNESS IN OHIO: We are on the brink of this historic opportunity to have so many people more engaged in our democratic process this year than we've ever seen. And yet we're going to -- we're going to show them that the first experience they get at trying to vote is they're turned away.

ARENA: For the first time under federal law, all states have to offer a backup or provisional ballot to voters whose names do not appear on the rolls when they show up to vote. And given the sheer volume of new registrations, election officials believe that such cases will arise. If people vote with those backup ballots at the wrong polling place, Ohio's secretary of state says that their vote shouldn't count.

KEN BLACKWELL, OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: The law is very explicit in saying that a provisional ballot cannot be cast in the precinct where a person does not live.

ARENA: A federal judge disagreed, and the state is appealing. So for now, the outcome is still unclear. Blackwell says Ohio has used provisional ballots before without controversy, but local election officials say the rules were not as strictly enforced in the past.

MATTHEW DAMSCHRODER, DIRECTOR, FRANKLIN COUNTY ELECTION BOARD: What we have to do as elections officials, is not only uphold the law and prevent fraud, but we also have to efficiently manage election day and allow every voter that's legally allowed to, to vote in an efficient manner. And it's sometimes -- sometimes a difficult thing to keep both of those in balance.

ARENA: The debate on provisional ballots is just one of several issues that have charged the political atmosphere in Ohio.

(on camera) For example, on the new voter registration forms, voters are asked to provide either the last four digits of their Social Security number or their driver's license number. Well, let's just say they forgot to do that.

Ohio election officials say if the form was mailed in, then all the voter needs to do is show up at the polls with the proper I.D. and vote. But if the form wasn't mailed in but was walked in instead, then the form will be sent back to the voter. The voter needs to fill out the information, get it back to election officials before election day. And if they don't do that, they're not registered, and they won't be allowed to vote.

(voice-over) And there's other confusion as well, including over whether ex-felons are allowed to vote. Some are told they could not, but they can. And it's not clear whether new voters know when they need to bring I.D. along, and if so, what kind.

MICHAEL YU, DIRECTOR, CUYAHOGA COUNTY ELECTION BOARD: That's one of the reasons why the board of elections has take an proactive approach in sending out a county-wide mailer that will discuss when I.D. will be asked.

ARENA: New rules, first-time voters and overburdened poll workers. It all adds up to a possible disaster.


ZAHN: That was Kelli Arena, reporting for us tonight. Now with all those important issues and so much at stake you might think this election is no laughing matter. Of course, you'd be wrong. When we come back, you'll see some biting, funny humor from Bill Maher.


MAHER: I know why you're excited. The debates are over! That's good.

Boy, those debates reminded me of the "CSI" franchise over on CBS. The first was OK. The second was more of the same. And by the third, we were going, "How much of this crap do we have to watch?"



ZAHN: Two weeks to go, which means two weeks left for the late- night comics to get their digs in. And here's what Bill Maher has been talking about.


MAHER: Bush, I would say, is relieved that the debates are over. Wouldn't you say? I'll tell you, he's so relieved that today the radio in his back was playing soft rock.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but look at this picture. I don't know. People have been talking about this. Is that something in -- does that not look like a packet of wire in his back? We still don't know what the deal is with that thing in Bush's back.

But I'll tell you, God has a sense of humor. It is something that could only be cured with stem cell research.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: And joining me now from Los Angeles, Bill Maher, host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."

Always good to see you. Welcome.

MAHER: How you doing, Paula?

ZAHN: I'm fine, thanks.

I bet you probably already know this. You are playing a powerful role in this election. Polls show that 21 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 are now getting their news from late-night comedy shows. Is this a good thing for democracy?

MAHER: But the balancing part of that statistic is that voters between those ages never vote. So actually, they're getting their news, but they're not doing anything with it. So we're OK.

ZAHN: Did you ever think you'd see numbers like that? And a small part of it, is it scary for you?

MAHER: Yes. I think that's been going on for awhile. I think it's getting more pronounced, but that's the country we live in.

And, you know, this is a bit of a controversy now. I saw my friend, Jon Stewart, raised this on CNN the other day. And I think that's a good issue to be raised. It's like, how serious are we, even with our news channels?

ZAHN: That's always a good question to debate, but I don't want to debate that right now. I want to ask you about the overt distortions, worst being seen made by both campaigns, and what kind of fodder that gives you?

MAHER: Well, for me it's great. I mean, comedians depend on politicians saying things, which then when you fact check, turn out not to be true.

But in this campaign, I've never seen an administration like the Bush administration, that so depended on people not paying very close attention, or saying things which really don't bear out.

For example, Bush is out there these days saying, "We're going to fight the terrorist there so we don't fight them there."

I've never seen any evidence that just because we're fighting them in Iraq it would prevent them from attacking us here. And yet that sounds good to people.

I think even Bush's supporters understand that very often he's wrong. They just like it that he's strong. I think that should be his slogan: "Strong and wrong." Because it doesn't seem to bother people that he's wrong, as long as he's strong and resolute, because Kerry's a flip-flopper and French.

ZAHN: And he speaks it! That's a bad thing. Isn't it? MAHER: He what?

ZAHN: He's not only -- has some French relatives, but he speaks the language, as well. But he certainly has left himself open to your criticism, as well?

MAHER: Absolutely. He's disappointed all of us. I don't think there's any person out there, Democratic, independent, even the occasional Republican who will switch over, who may not be very happy with the president.

I mean, if you look at the polls, even people who support Bush say they want his second term to be different. The polls that say the country's on the wrong track keep going up. The polls that say his approval rating, not good.

And yet people stick by the president in alarming numbers, and I think the reason is because Kerry doesn't give them that reason to cross over, because he doesn't close the deal. Because he doesn't call this president out on his B.S.

ZAHN: Let's talk about Ralph Nader for a moment, a guy you voted for in the year 2000 and recently on your show...

MAHER: We all do things when we're young and silly.

ZAHN: Yes. That was four years ago. You were a young lad then.

MAHER: That was a youthful indiscretion. I was barely over 40.

ZAHN: All right. So now that you're this grown-up, you've actually gotten down basically on your knees and begged your audience not to waste their vote voting for Ralph Nader.

MAHER: Well, actually, begged him not to run, but that didn't do any good.

And look, I love Ralph. I always -- I think Ralph has made an immense contribution to this country. And as I said to Ralph that day, that I begged him with Michael Moore not to run, I said, "You know what? We're not telling you, Ralph, that you're wrong. You're not wrong. Your issue that this country is way too controlled by corporate interests is correct. And the guy in the White House right now is the last guy in the world who's going to do something about it."

And that's why we do not have the option at this point to thumb up our nose and say, "Oh, you know what? The lesser of two evils. Whatever." The lesser of two evils looks pretty good to me right now.

ZAHN: Do you think Ralph Nader, though, could cost John Kerry the election? If you believe John Kerry is the lesser of two evils here?

MAHER: You know, I don't trust this election to begin with. I think what could cost this election would be Diebold and their voting machines, or the fact that don't -- are not able to count the votes. What's that all about?

I always say -- how come when they have an election, people say, "Well, you know what? We can't ever get it exactly right. As many times as you get a recount, you're going to get a different count."

Why -- why is that? Why can't we get an exact count? We seem to be able to get an exact count with money. I've never gone to the bank and have them say, "You know, it might be $10,000. It might be a little more. Every time we count it, it comes out different. So if it's ahead for you, good luck." I don't know.

ZAHN: You and I could be talking about this election for many months to come. I mean, we're talking about so much litigation that could be involved.

Final question for you. If John Kerry, in your mind, is the lesser of two evils, if you could pick any candidate out there that's not one of the three now that will be on most of the ballots, who would it be? Who do you think would make the best president?

MAHER: I always thought Colin Powell would be a great president.

ZAHN: Have you told him that?

MAHER: Yes. I've said it publicly. I've never spoken to him directly.

ZAHN: It's a great way to get him on your show, Bill.

MAHER: You'd think by now he would have responded.

I do. I think he'd be a great president, and I know he's often criticized by people who say, you know what? He should have -- he should have resigned after the WMD weren't found and so forth.

I think the fact that he hasn't resigned, the fact that he stays there with a bunch of crazy people and tries to be the one sane voice in the room shows what a good guy he is. Because the easy thing would be to resign and not have to go to work with all these people every day who are reminding you, "I didn't see you in Bible class."

You know, he's not one of the people who drank the Kool-Aid. I'm really glad he's there. And if he ever got a chance to be his -- his own leader of the free world, as opposed to having to follow the orders of somebody who probably doesn't deserve to shine his shoes, I think he'd probably be a great president.

ZAHN: Bill Maher, let's see if this lands a booking for you. The booking we're all trying to get on a nightly basis. Always fun spending time with you.

MAHER: All right.

ZAHN: Continued good luck with the show.

MAHER: Thank you, Paula. ZAHN: The smart late-night comedian.

Much more ahead, including the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question. We will be back a moment.


ZAHN: And coming up on CNN prime-time, "LARRY KING LIVE," how Scott Peterson's defense is trying to chip away at the prosecution's case. You will hear courtroom accounts and debate at 9 Eastern.

But right now we continue our series on "Fortune" magazine's list of the 50 most powerful women.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When Anne Mulcahy became the CEO of Xerox in 2001, she faced an accounting scandal investigation and nearly $17 billion in debt. But Mulcahy said bankruptcy was simply not an option.

In just three years, she's managed to turn the company around, creating a strong cash flow, while maintaining spending on research and development.

PATTIE SELLERS, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Anne Mulcahy is on our most powerful women list because of the amazing turnaround. The key to Xerox's turnaround has been cutting costs, improving the balance sheet, restoring the integrity and the credibility of the company and also coming out with new products to get some top-line growth.

About three quarters of their revenues, the last couple of years, have come from products introduced in the last couple of years, which is very impressive.



ZAHN: Now it's time to see what you have been thinking tonight, the results of our "Voting Booth" question of the day. "Does a candidate's faith affect your vote?" Eighteen percent of you say yes, 82 percent of you say no.

Remember, this is not terribly scientific. It happens to be a sampling of those of you who've logged on to our web site. We appreciate your feedback.

The opinions of swing voters have never been so critical to the campaigns as they are now. I'll get to hear from some of them in our next town hall meeting. We hit the road again on Thursday, where we will find ourselves in the battleground state of Ohio, Clark County, specifically. And I will also be joined by representatives of both the Bush and Kerry campaigns. That's coming up Thursday.

And visit our website at if you'd like to submit a question for that meeting. We'll try to get to as many of them as we can.

That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. Tomorrow, armies of attorneys on the ready. Will the road to the White House once again run through the courtroom? See you then.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Good night.


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