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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Running on Faith; Gay Rights and the 2008 Presidential Election

Aired July 19, 2007 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us tonight.
We continue our countdown to Monday night's CNN/YouTube debate at the Citadel Military College in Charleston, South Carolina. It is your chance to ask the Democratic presidential candidates a question.

As of tonight, almost 1,600 questions are posted on YouTube, the video-sharing Web site. That's more than 13 hours worth. Of course, the candidates will never get all of them. All this week, though, we are bringing you some of the most creative and controversial questions and exploring some of the very important issues they raise.

Tonight, how critical is a candidate's religion to your vote?

Will this election be a turning point for gay rights, gay marriage and the military's don't ask, don't tell policy?

And can anyone protect the environment, bring down gas prices, and combat global warming all at once?

Well, we start off with an issue that is at the center of many Americans' lives. And that is their religion; 83 percent of the people who voted in last year's election go to church at least occasionally. Nearly half go every week.

We are seeing an amazing variety of questions about faith and values for next Monday's debate.

Let's take a look at some of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZENNIE ABRAHAM, OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA: This quarter reads "United States of America." And when I turn it over, you find that it reads "Liberty. In God We Trust." What do those words mean to you?

STEPHEN MARSH, THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA: I'm worried about the amount of time given to evangelical concerns, while secular voters are more or less getting snubbed. Am I wrong in fearing a Democratic administration that may pay lip service to be extremely religious as much as the current one?

KEVIN, SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: I am part of a very large group here on YouTube that has been traditionally marginalized by the political process. And that is atheists. For anybody brave enough to take it, what will do you to represent my interests and the interests of other Americans who do not profess a belief in God?

MONTY KNIGHT, CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: As president of our local chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, as in the First Amendment to our nation's Constitution, my question is this. Does one have to be the right kind of Christian to be elected president of our great nation?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, the one thing we do know from past elections is that the more often people go to church, the more likely they are to vote Republican.

But, this time around, the Democratic Party is actively courting religious voters. And some of the Democratic candidates are opening up about their own religious experience.

We ask Dan Lothian to take a closer look at exactly who is running on faith.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Outspoken faith on the campaign trail.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, I have a deep and abiding love for my lord, Jesus Christ.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I came to see faith as more than just a comfort.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I take my faith very seriously.

EDWARDS: And I pray daily.

ALAN WOLFE, PROFESSOR, BOSTON COLLEGE: We're seeing more religion talk from the Democrats than we are from the Republicans.

LOTHIAN: Four of the Democratic presidential hopefuls are Catholic. Two are Methodist. One is a member of the United Church of Christ. And the other is Unitarian.

The public seems to be taking notice. When voters were asked in a recent "TIME" poll which candidate is -- quote -- "a person of strong religious faith," two Democrats, Barack Obama and John Edwards, were near the top, ahead of all the Republican hopefuls except Mormon Mitt Romney.

Some say because of Barack Obama's African-American heritage, talking about faith is a comfortable fit.

OBAMA: My moral commitments to that vision of a -- what Dr. King called a beloved community grows out of my faith. LOTHIAN (on camera): The question is, does faith matter? Are Democratic voters swayed by a candidate's religious beliefs? And how much religion do they want in the White House?

(voice-over): The "TIME" shows a majority of Democrats don't think a president should use faith to guide presidential decisions, nor should that leader use a personal interpretation of the Bible.

About one in three Democrats is less likely to support a fundamentalist Christian, a Mormon, or a Muslim.

But speaking about faith does have its advantages.

REV. JOEL HUNTER, NORTHLAND CHURCH: Because it talks about the values of the candidate and it helps us know them for who they really are.

LOTHIAN: Senator Hillary Clinton has openly talked about how her faith has helped her deal with her husband's infidelity.

CLINTON: That gave me the courage and the strength.

LOTHIAN: And how it should be kept low-key.

CLINTON: I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people who wear their faith on their sleeves.

LOTHIAN: Finding out just where a candidate should wear his or her faith is a delicate balance, especially since some voters identify themselves as non-believers.

WOLFE: If you do too much God talk, especially if you're a Democrat, you really do risk turning off significant groups.

LOTHIAN: Democratic candidates fitting faith into the discussion, along with war, health care, and the economy.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, the Democrats may be getting religion, but will it get them votes?

That's a question for two members of the best political team on TV, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley -- she happens to be at the site of Monday's debate, the Citadel Military College in Charleston -- and senior political analyst Bill Schneider, who happens to be here in New York.

Good to see both of you.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.

ZAHN: All right. So, now we see, Candy, these Democrats more openly talking about religion than they have in previous elections. How much of this is driven by watching what great success Republicans have in being honest about their religious beliefs?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think more of it comes from looking at who votes for what party.

And what Democrats, obviously, have ascertained that this -- particularly in the South and in rural areas, it means something to know what the values of a candidate are. This has been proven true in study after study that that is part of the reason why Democrats have lost in those two areas.

So, obviously, they are stepping up to this plate. And it's not so much about their religion as it is about their values. As that is what, as one of the sound bites in that piece that Dan did sort of got to, which is they want to know a sense of who this person is and part of who that person is are their values and it matters very much in these states and areas that have previously been red Republican.

ZAHN: But, Candy -- and I'm going to actually have Bill answer this one, because he's the poll expert.

I want you to take a look at this poll result that might give a Democratic candidate pause about talking so openly about his or her religion. Of course, by a 2-1 margin, Republicans say a president should use his or her faith to guide his decisions. Democrats largely reject this idea.

So, is this a potential slippery slope for some of these Democratic candidates?

SCHNEIDER: Well, certainly, a lot of Democrats distrust politicians who mix religion and politics. And, as you indicated, Democrats are worried. Candy just talked about it. They are worried that they may be losing support from the vast majority of Americans who profess to be people of faith.

And what they are trying to do is show that they have respect for religion, but they want to draw the line at saying that religion will determine their policies.

I should add that Republicans also have a problem with religion. A lot of Americans are worried that Republicans mix religion and politics too much, because in that same "TIME" poll, the number of people who said President Bush has used religion more to divide the country than to unite the country has gone up quite sharply over the last few years.

ZAHN: And, Candy, what happens when you take a look at the independent swing vote in this upcoming election? How do they feel about God talk or one's faith?

CROWLEY: Well, I think again there is this delineation between talking about your specific religion and taking about your moral values.

Independents not that much different from Republicans or Democrats in terms of the fact that they want to know who this candidate really is. But, again, they do have to be careful because you do have this sort of backlash over the Bush era.

I think the talk about putting everything in terms of good and evil has turned off a number of people, including independents.

ZAHN: Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider, thanks for putting that all into perspective for us tonight. I will see both of you a little bit later on.

We have also put together a panel of different viewpoints on politics and faith.

Nationally syndicated radio host Dennis Prager is Jewish. Eric Metaxas is Christian, specifically an Episcopalian. He's also the author of a book called "Everything Else You Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid To Ask)." Edina Lekovic is on the Muslim Public Affairs Council. And Ellen Johnson is president of the American Atheists.

Welcome, all.

EDINA LEKOVIC, MUSLIM PUBLIC AFFAIRS COUNCIL: Thank you.

ZAHN: How do you feel about all of this talk about values and faith on the campaign trail?

ERIC METAXAS, AUTHOR, "EVERYTHING ELSE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT GOD (BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK)": Generally, I'm thrilled, because I think that America is a very religious country.

And I think it's very tough for us, living in places like New York City, as we do, to get completely out of touch with America. America is interested in God. And 84 percent of Americans say that they are Christians.

Now, we have to figure out, OK, so this is important to people. How do we talk about it in a way that doesn't seem phony? And I think the fact that the Democrats are beginning to understand that you have to talk about this is a great step forward, because this shouldn't just be the province of conservatives. And yet there is a danger of sounding stiff and phony because you are not comfortable.

ZAHN: But phony, Ellen, is one issue. There is also the issue of many voters who are quite cynical about the way politics and religion are mixed on the campaign trail.

ELLEN JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ATHEISTS: Absolutely, Paula.

And I think these Democrats risk losing as many votes as they hope to gain from the religious. And the other thing that concerns me is that when one of these politicians wins office, whoever it will be, it's going to be payback time for those who voted for them from the religious.

And we're concerned about what that payback will be. Will there be further erosion of the constitutional separation between state and church? And the other thing is that there are 55 million Americans who are feeling very disaffected because they are nonreligious, and they are -- they're feeling disaffected by a political system in America that completely ignores them.

And they want to be part of the public policy debate in America. And I think that the Democrats should start listening to them if they want those votes from that 55 million Americans, who are a significant voting bloc in America.

ZAHN: Dennis, do you have a problem with all this talk about God and one's own personal values on the campaign trail?

DENNIS PRAGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I have no problem, but personally I don't care if a person is religious or not religious when I vote for him. I want to know his or her values on their positions.

There may be religious people who are on the religious left who are indistinguishable from the secular left. In fact, that's my first question to the religious left, to the Democrats who go to church. How do you differ in any single way from a secular leftist? And I have never gotten an answer to that.

So, it doesn't matter to me whether a person attends church or not running for office, and it shouldn't matter to the atheist. What should matter to any voter is, what are the values that this person brings to office? What is the greatest issue in their view?

I happen to think it is a good and evil issue, that we are fighting the greatest evil since Nazism. So, that's the way I will vote.

ZAHN: Edina, what about you? How meaningful is all of this to you, as a Muslim?

LEKOVIC: It's very meaningful, because the policy establishment has concluded that relations between religions, rather than simply between states, will be one of the determining factors in the 21st century.

So, the more that our candidates, as we look at them in this presidential election, to see the ways that they discuss religion, not just their own, but their views towards other religions and whether they are able to demonstrate not only an inclusive perspective and ecumenical perspective, but where the rubber meets the road.

How that will actually translate into policies, both domestically and internationally, is one of the primary ways that we will look at the selection.

ZAHN: I want to pose a question now through a YouTuber who submitted this question, and let you take a stab at this.

You could pretend you are presidential candidates.

Let's listen together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEREMIAH PASTERNAK, RYE, NEW HAMPSHIRE: How often do your religious beliefs impact your decision-making? And can you see a time where you would go against those beliefs if it meant a positive change for the country?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: I think that's an interesting question, is it not, violating whatever is your core beliefs and...

(CROSSTALK)

METAXAS: But it sets up a false choice, OK, because, in other words, religious beliefs can't be separate from -- in other words, the idea is that if I feel that I'm in lockstep -- they gave JFK a hard time. They said, well, you are really a Catholic, so are you going to follow the pope vs. whatever?

A real Catholic, a real Christian, says, that's nonsense. Of course not. My religion teaches me to love my enemies, to care about other people before I care about myself. So, you're asking kind of a -- you're implying something in the question which implies like I'm following a cult leader or something like that, which is not true.

ZAHN: Is that a false question, Dennis?

PRAGER: I agree with everything that he just said.

I am guided in my case by Judaism and more broadly Judeo- Christian values. If any of those values would make America worse, I would have to entirely rethink my commitment to those values.

METAXAS: Bingo.

JOHNSON: Well...

ZAHN: Go ahead. Jump in here, Ellen.

JOHNSON: I would like to see a rational, enlightened thinker take the office of the president, and not somebody who is very religious anymore. We're sick and tired of that.

METAXAS: But why do you say that there has to be a choice?

(CROSSTALK)

LEKOVIC: Faith has a way of informing decisions, not of determining them. And I think that any leader...

METAXAS: Of course.

(CROSSTALK)

METAXAS: Martin Luther King was a devout Christian, and he stood up for justice because of his Christianity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood up against Hitler because of his devout faith in Jesus Christ.

LEKOVIC: Right. And the way that we want our country to be moving forward is not with faith or without faith, but the two living alongside each other with mutual understanding.

(CROSSTALK)

LEKOVIC: But neither side should determine the end product.

JOHNSON: But we're really more likely to get that enlightened, rational thinking from somebody the less religious they are.

METAXAS: That's bigotry.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: But it's the truth. But that's the way it is.

METAXAS: That's bigotry. That's anti-religious bigotry.

JOHNSON: Look at George Bush.

METAXAS: Stalin was an atheist. He didn't respect his opponents.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: That had nothing to do with what Stalin...

(CROSSTALK)

PRAGER: I would like to ask...

ZAHN: Dennis, you can't ask anything, but you can give me a 10- second final thought, because I have got to move on. Do you have a final thought for us?

PRAGER: So, I have to...

(CROSSTALK)

PRAGER: Oh, yes.

Very quickly, I would like to know, who founded America, atheists or believers? That's all. I would like to ask the atheist that question. And, therefore, which is more significant to the future of our country?

JOHNSON: There were both. There were atheists throughout our history, but it was the believers who we had to separate... (CROSSTALK)

PRAGER: No, no, but they weren't. But they weren't. They weren't. That's not true.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: We had to have a separation between the state and church because of...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And I'm going to have to pick up that debate at another time.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Dennis Prager, Eric Metaxas, Edina Lekovic, Ellen Johnson, thank you, all. That was interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: I'm going to move on to an issue that's hitting everyone where it hurts. And that's right in the gas tank.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're the ones who don't want to pay $5 a gallon down the road.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we want action now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Coming up next, big issues for the YouTube community and the rest of us. What will the presidential candidates do about gas prices, the environment, and global warming?

And, if you have a question for the candidates, it's not too late to get it in. We are going to show you how to get it on YouTube.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The Democratic presidential candidates are going to be facing off on Monday in a debate right here on CNN. But this debate will be different from the kinds you are used to seeing. The candidates will be answering videotaped questions from YouTube users.

And we are counting down to it this week by looking at some of the nearly 1,600 questions that have already come in.

Some are spoken. Some are sung, all kinds of creative ways to ask the questions. But, clearly, one of the top concerns of those of you who have filed your questions is energy and the environment. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISAAC MYHRUM, LA GRANDE, OREGON: I drive a 1987 Chevy Celebrity. Now, I wish I could drive a hybrid. I know that would be better for the environment. But, at this stage in my life, I just can't afford one.

And, so, my question is, if you are the next president, what will you do to make sure that alternative fuel technology is affordable for everyone?

ERIC STRAND, IOWA: Right now, the United States is addicted to fossil fuels. During your administration, how would you change the United States' status from world leader in consuming fossil fuels to world leader in consuming renewable energy?

MOQAMARUDEEN, MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE: If every American in their personal life used as much energy as you do, would the United States use more or less energy than it does now?

DAN MCCONNAUGHEY, LAFAYETTE, INDIANA: What are you going to do to promote new energy technologies, so that we can lose our dependency on foreign oil?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are your plans to make the U.S. less dependent on non-renewable and foreign sources for fuel? This means more than discussions. We are the ones who don't want to pay $5 a gallon down the road.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, we want action now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Our YouTube questioners clearly want solutions, as you have just seen in some of those questions. But the challenges of weaning this country off of foreign oil are enormous.

And we asked our chief technology and environment correspondent, Miles O'Brien, to show us why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CHIEF TECHNOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The crude facts are this. We are a nation of oil gluttons.

With only 5 percent of the world's population, we use 25 percent of all the oil that burns. That's 876 million gallons a day, nearly three gallons for every American man, woman and child. In one-gallon cans, the oil we use daily would circle the equator more than six-and- a-half times.

We know this is bad for the environment and the climate. And more than three-quarters of what we use comes from other countries, some of them places where we are increasingly unpopular.

Even an old oilman admitted we need to change our ways.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is addicted to oil.

O'BRIEN (on camera): So, how do we kick the habit? Maybe a 12- step program is in order.

"Hi. My name is America. And I'm an oil-aholic."

Actually, maybe group therapy with some nations might be a good idea. After all, they're doing a better job kicking the oil addiction.

Ah, thank you, Chip (ph).

Cheers.

(voice-over): Along with good wine and strong cheese, the French have great amour for nuclear power; 78 percent of their electricity comes from splitting atoms. As for us, it's a measly 20 percent.

If the idea of nuclear energy gives some Americans a meltdown, what about more benign energy sources that don't raise the global thermostat and might give a little independence from oil-rich countries?

In Denmark, almost 20 percent of the energy comes from wind power. The amount we get from all renewables, dams, solar, geothermal, and windmills is only about 6 percent.

So, why are we so far behind? Well, for one thing, in those other countries, oil has always been much more expensive and heavily taxed, so people use less. Here in the U.S., cheap and plentiful oil has fueled an amazing century-long economic party. But no party lasts forever.

And the presidential candidates recognize that.

CLINTON: The clean energy agenda is a jobs agenda.

OBAMA: We have been talking about climate change in Washington for years. And, as usual, America is way ahead of Washington.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will push fuel economy standards to 50 miles per gallon, 50 miles per gallon, by 2020.

O'BRIEN: Whether it's raising taxes on gas or forcing Detroit to build more efficient cars, there aren't no easy choices, and as time goes on, they won't get any easier.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Miles O'Brien is with me now.

Have you gotten rid of your pint of oil or whatever that was sitting on the bar?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Yes, I tried to have an oil and water, but it didn't mix.

ZAHN: All right. Well, I'm glad that you're going to be able to think clearly with us now.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes.

ZAHN: And joining me once again, senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

So, Miles, until recently, a lot of politicians avoided the issue of talking about global warming on the campaign trail. To what extent does the success of Al Gore's movie, "Inconvenient Truth," and these Live Aid (sic) concerts for the environment change that landscape?

O'BRIEN: Boy, yes, I think it plays a big part.

And, you know, what's interesting, Paula, remember, back in '92, when Al Gore was running for vice president, the senior George Bush called him ozone man. There was a snicker factor associated with all of this. And Al Gore, over time, didn't talk much about the environment as he ran for vice president and ultimately ran for president.

Now, of course, he's much more vocal about it. Of course, he's not running. So, there has been a tipping point. But I would add one more thing to the mix. Perhaps a co-star who should also accept that Academy Award for that movie would be Hurricane Katrina and that terrible hurricane season.

Whether or not there is any scientific proof that links it to global warming, people perceived it as a global warming-based problem. And that changed their perceptions and made them much more open to the science.

ZAHN: It may have changed their perceptions, Miles.

But, Bill, I want you to analyze these statistics for us, because when you ask voters to list their top five concerns, it's not even on the list. This, of course, is the whole population. But when you break down a poll of younger people -- and MTV did this just last month -- the younger generation, of course, is much more concerned about the environment.

Is this the way to get the youth vote, if you are trying to figure out these numbers?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it does matter more to younger people. I'm not sure it's their top issue, as you saw. But it does matter to them.

Look, they are going to live longer, alas. Yes, they will. And the year 2050, the state of the Earth then is very meaningful to younger people. So, those of us who are a little older, not so much.

Also, a lot of them are better educated, and when you are better educated, you can understand the way in which large and abstract events like global warming can have an impact on your life. And they are less preoccupied with immediate concerns like mortgages, taxes, health care, the education of their kids, so that they can afford often to be more idealistic. And the issue means more to them.

ZAHN: Miles, you have talked with a lot of environmental activists. Who do they like among the Democrats right now?

O'BRIEN: Well, they are sort of sitting back right now.

It's interesting. If you were to really look at the environmental platform of the candidates, strictly on that basis, Dennis Kucinich stands apart. But the fact is, the environmentalists would like to hitch their wagon to a candidate that has a really strong chance of winning.

The other one that comes to mind is John Edwards. What they want and what they're desiring from them is a sense of -- a recognition of the problem, caps on carbon emissions, raising gasoline mileage, insisting Detroit do that, and looking for some alternatives to fossil fuels.

ZAHN: And, of course, if Al Gore joined -- jumped in on the race here, Bill Schneider, I suppose his environmental stances might help him a little?

SCHNEIDER: Oh, yes. And, if he were to run for president, that would be, of course, one of his major platforms.

ZAHN: Yes.

SCHNEIDER: That is what he is devoting the rest of his career to.

But Democrats -- if he were to run for president, I think what Democrats would ask him is one simple question: Can you win? And if it looks like he could win, they might nominate him.

ZAHN: Simply put.

Bill Schneider, thanks.

Miles O'Brien, sidle back up to that bar there, but just make sure you don't drive home in a gas guzzler.

ZAHN: We have noticed a lot of YouTube questions on a couple of topics that are guaranteed to start an argument: Should gays serve openly in the military? Should gay marriage be legal? Wait until you hear some of the questions that have been posed among YouTubers.

And the presidential candidates are going to be expected to answer them. We will see if they're brave enough to.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Every week we bring you a story of someone who found a way to walk away from a career to live out a dream. And in tonight's "Life after Work" Ali Velshi introduces us to a man who traded a desk job at a medical school for a life handicapping horses.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Choosing favorites has been a lifelong role for Ray Brienza.

RAY BRIENZA, COLUMNIST: My main job is to handicap each race. That means trying to let the readers of the "Star-Ledger" sports section have an idea of what I think will be the winner of race and second and third.

VELSHI: Ray has been writing a column on harness racing for a Newark, New Jersey newspaper for over 31 years, but he didn't get to focus on his hobby full time until he retired from handicapping favorites in another field.

BRIENZA: At its peak at the medical school, we were reviewing 5,000 applications for 160 places in the medical school.

VELSHI: Brienza spent 37 years working as an assistant dean of admissions at New York University's Medical School before retiring in 2004. But, he knew in retirement the odds where he'd be spending more time at the track.

BRIENZA: The most enjoyable aspect of what I do really is meeting the people that I meet. I mean, these are really interesting, hard-working people with different backgrounds. And it's just fun to hear them talk to them about what makes them want to train or drive or to own horses.

VELSHI: What's ironic is that Brienza can't get too close to the horses he's spent most of his life watching.

BRIENZA: I'm allergic to a lot of things. Besides cats I'm also allergic to ponies.

VELSHI: So, Brienza stays a safe distance to make the picks for his column.

BRIENZA: If you're coming to the track and you don't know much about to bet, you just look at Brienza's Analysis, and hopefully if I'm right, I will have given you a couple of winners that night.

VELSHI: Ali Velshi, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Fun job. Our countdown to the CNN/YouTube debate continues with the question America's Next commander-in-chief will have to answer whether he or she likes it or not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GAYMILITARYMAN: If you become president, how will you help gay military members, like myself, who are currently burdened by the don't-ask-don't tell...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: A lot of provocative questions coming in to us about gays in the military. We've got some of the toughest ones straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back to the CNN/YouTube Debate Countdown. Next Monday, Democratic candidates will be in Charleston, South Carolina for a unique debate. They're going to be facing questions on tape from YouTube users. So far about 1,600 questions have been posted on the video sharing Website. Of course, the candidates will never get all of them, so this week we're playing some of the most controversial questions and exploring some of the important issues they raise. Now, one of those issues is gay rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV REGGIE LONGCRIER, HICKORY, NC: Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segregation, and denying women the right to vote. So, why is it still acceptable to religion to deny gay Americans their full and equal rights?

ALEXANDER NICHOLSON, SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm also a former army human intelligence collector who speaks five languages including Arabic, yet my unit was forced to be discharged just six months after 9/11 because the command inadvertently found out that I'm gay, all because of this lingering don't-ask-don't-tell law.

As president, how would you all go about getting this law changed?

GAYMILITARYMAN: I'd like to keep my name and hometown anonymous because I am in the military and I am gay. If you become president, how will you help gay military members, like myself, who are currently burdened by the don't-ask-don't-tell policy?

MARY MATTHEWS, POSTED YOUTUBE QUESTION: If you were president of United States, would you allow us to be married, to each other?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Gays marriage, of course, a polarizing issue back in the 2004 race and gays in the military is a national security issue, this time around. We asked senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley to look at where the Democratic candidates stand on all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jason Knight was 18 when he joined the Navy, 24 when he was thrown out. He says it was like losing a family.

JASON KNIGHT, SERVICMBRS, LEGAL DEF NETWORK: While I was in Kuwait, yes, I was openly gay and I had the full support of my co- workers and my superiors and it wasn't until I made my -- told my story, went completely public that I was discharged (INAUDIBLE).

GOV BILL RICHARDSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If an American serviceman or servicewoman is willing to die for our country, I would not give them -- I would not give them a lecture on sexual orientation.

CROWLEY: Every Democratic presidential candidate wants to repeal the don't-ask-don't-tell, even the senator whose husband instituted the policy as president in 1993.

GOV HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have thousands of loyal, patriotic Americans who've been discharged from the military in a time of war. That to me does not make sense.

CROWLEY: The candidates are on solid political ground, here; 79 percent of Americans told a CNN Opinion Research Poll that openly gay and lesbian people should be allowed to serve in the military. The political turf is less certain on the subject of same-sex marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't personally support gay marriage.

CROWLEY: Just 24 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, 27 said civil unions are OK, 43 percent said neither was acceptable. Only two Democratic presidential candidates support gay marriage, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich.

REP DENNIS KUCINICH (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will be sure that our brothers and sisters who are gay or lesbian, transgender, bisexual have true marriage equality.

CROWLEY: Everyone else in the field supports civil unions, not as acceptable to gays and lesbians who want the broader rights of civil marriage. Most of the Democrats would make up the difference.

SEN BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It think all of us can agree that if you've got a same-sex couple and one gets sick in the hospital, that the partner should be able to go visit them in the hospital, that they should be able to transfer property, that they should be able to make sure that their social security benefits for a partner...

CROWLEY: The Democratic presidential candidates are, in fact, pretty united in their approach to gay and lesbian issues. For Jason knight that holds the possibility that one day he could undo what was done. KNIGHT: Because I had that sense of pride about being in the military. It's an incredible institution. I love serving my country. I'll do it again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Candy Crowley is back with us, now. She's at the site of Monday's debate, the Citadel Military College in Charleston, South Carolina. Also with me, chief national correspondent, we saw him earlier tonight, as well, John King.

So Candy, I guess we need to point out that the gay vote represents just about three percent of the population and yet you have Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama and the other Democratic candidates committing, next month, to a forum on logo TV where gay issues will be directly focused on? What does that tell you about the power of that voting block?

CROWLEY: Well, it tells me that beyond that three percent of gay, lesbian, transgender voter, there is another group of voters who are none of the above, but who still believe there ought to be civil rights for that group. So, this is not -- when the candidates talk about gay rights, it's not just about gays, it's about others who agree that they ought to be given their civil rights.

ZAHN: When you look at the numbers, though, John, that Candy in her piece, she talked about 24 percent of Americans saying it's OK to have gay marriages, 27 percent civil unions; what are the risks for these candidates in addressing this extremely contentious issue?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in the past some conservative candidates have used gay rights as a wedge issue against Democrats to try to push them over as extreme liberals. That would be the risk for Democrats. Although, there are relatively safe ground, even Republicans will tell you, conservatives will tell you, if they're talking about anti-discrimination. It's when you can cast their positions as special preferences for gay and lesbians that it might hurt them in some Southern states, although, Paula, I have to tell you, there is a dramatic seat change on these issues that even most Republicans pollsters now would say that it is not -- does not have the power, gay rights, gay issues, do not have the power as a wedge issue as they did in past campaigns. They say immigration has replaced gay rights, as a matter of fact, as the more powerful wedge issue.

ZAHN: What else has changed -- that immigration, would so trump this issue -- John.

KING: Well, the attitudes of Americans have changed. As they have had these debates, as you have had the debates in states. Many states, I believe it's 13 or somewhere in that area, have banned gay marriage, have passed state initiatives. And now, those ballot initiatives tend to pass in the states who are on the ballot, but what you have is a debate about them. It can be an emotional debate, it can be a divisive debate, but these issues are much more discussed in the open and in the mainstream of our politics. They are now debated issues out in the public and before they were much more off to the side, if you will, it was more of a fringe debate, so the American people have had their chance to discuss and digest these issues.

ZAHN: And Candy, how are these candidates specifically looking at the Independent voting block and how they view these things?

CROWLEY: Well, they're looking at it in much the same way they look at the general public, that they need to talk about this in terms of civil rights and in terms of giving gay couples the same benefits that other couples enjoy. So, they look at it in the same way. This is not, I must say, an issue that comes up a lot on the campaign trail.

Again, as John explained, it doesn't have the power it used to have in sort of getting people to say, listen, you know, the Democrats are all about gay issues. One of the things that the Democrats do have to be careful of, though, is to make sure that they don't look as though as some of them have accused the Democrats of doing -- the Republicans have accused them of them -- of saying: listen, there are so many more important things, why are they focusing on this, it's pandering. So, if begin to look like you're pandering, no matter who you're pandering to, that's a political problem.

ZAHN: Candy Crowley, thanks. You got your cot ready? You going to be hanging out there until Monday night?

CROWLEY: Absolutely, but it's a little better than a cot, thanks.

ZAHN: Oh good, almost permanently ensconced. Getting ready for our countdown. John King, thank you for your time from Washington.

We're about to meet a couple who posted one of the most memorable questions of all. Remember this one?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Would you allow us to be married, to each other?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: They join me next with the story behind their question. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: All week long we've been counting down to the CNN/YouTube presidential debates coming up this coming Monday. It is the first debate of its kind. The Democratic candidates will face off in Charleston, South Carolina and they will be answering questions from ordinary people who post them on YouTube, and right now we're focusing in on gay rights and specifically gay marriage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: My name's Mary. JEN WEIDENBAUM, POSTED QUESTION ON YOUTUBE: And my name is Jen.

MATTHEWS: And we're from Brooklyn, New York. If you were elected president of the United States, would you allow us to be married, to each other?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, the two people who posted that question are with me now, Mary Matthews and Jen Weidenbaum. They are both with us tonight, here in the studio.

No doubt you are very familiar with these statistics we showed just a segment ago, where the vast majority of Americans are opposed to gay marriage. And not that many more are in favor of civil unions. So, what is it you want to hear from these political candidates on Monday?

MATTHEWS, POSTED YOUTUBE QUESTION: Well, I'd first like if they were to answer our question directly, to say "yes" or "no." Not to say, yes I'm for civil unions or domestic partnership, you know, I don't want them to talk around what, you know, we're asking. That's why I think the question was just 17 seconds long and short and sweet.

ZAHN: Why was it important for the two of you to pose that question?

WEIDENBAUM: I think it's very important for us to know that whoever we're voting for believes that we are full citizens and that we can fully interact and -- as citizens.

ZAHN: Let me put up on the screen something that I found fascinating, because I didn't realize this many rights existed for married couples that are denied to same-sex couples because they can't legally marry, including hospital visitation, health insurance, family leave and retirement benefits. What rights of all of those are most important to the two of you? Isn't that what this all boils down to for the two of you?

MATTHEWS: Oh definitely, yeah. It's marriage equality, it's saying, you know, our relationship is the same as a straight relationship. You know, and as citizens -- tax paying citizens, we deserved every one of those rights that straight people do and I would say health insurance is important. If we were straight, if I was a man, and we were together or married, you know, I would have health benefits. I don't, because we're gay, Hospital visitation, if we wanted to have a family, adoption rights. I mean, it's an endless list.

WEIDENBAUM: Yeah, No. 23 isn't any better than number 56, it's just -- they're all very important.

ZAHN: Do you have any sense in what Candy Crowley just reported that America is changing and that perhaps they're going to deal less with the issue of your sexuality and maybe more with the issue of civil rights? MATTHEWS: Definitely. I mean, it's not, you know, yes there's maybe there's a small percent of gay voters, but everybody has a gay person that they know, that they work with, that they live near, that's in their family. And you know, a vote is not just for one, it's for many things, many issues and many people. And when I go to the polls, I'm not just voting for myself, I'm voting for my neighbors and you know, their concerns and their issues.

ZAHN: Well, we are glad the two of you dropped by.

WEIDENBAUM: Thanks for having us.

ZAHN: Mary Matthews, Jen Weidenbaum.

More than 17 seconds, you got on YouTube.

LARRY KING LIVE coming up in just a few minutes. Hi, Larry, how you doing?

LARRY KING, LARRY KING LIVE: Hi Paula, you?

ZAHN: I am fine, thank you. So, who is joining you this evening?

KING: Well, we've got an extraordinary show coming. Tammy Faye Messner is down to 65 pounds with inoperable cancer. She faces a battle with courage and grace you have to see to believe. The interview that she reached out to us to do. It's an interview you won't forget. Tammy Faye right at the top of hour on LARRY KING LIVE. You should watch this, Paula.

ZAHN: Yeah, I watched part of it last night and on one hand it was heartbreaking to watch, on the other, so inspirational. She is one courageous woman.

KING: She's -- the more I know her, the more I can't tell you how impressed I am with her. And more so, tonight.

ZAHN: Well, her dignity certainly shined through last night, so we will be watching, Larry, thanks.

KING: Thank you.

ZAHN: And we've been showing you some of the questions that have already been posted on YouTube for next Monday's presidential debate. If you want to get in on this you're ready for Jacki Schechner and the next step.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: So, do you know what you want to ask of the presidential candidates? Coming up, I'll show you how to get your question onto YouTube?

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: Jacki, we need you. We need your help. If you never posted on YouTube before, you're going to see how easy it is, even if you're not good on the computer. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: You've seen some of the questions posed by YouTubers out there that'll be presented to Democratic candidates on Monday. Of course, they'll be in Charleston, South Carolina to answer some of those. If you haven't sent one in, there's still time to fire one off. And here's Internet correspondent Jacki Schechner to show you exactly how to do it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHECHNER: Hi guys. No matter how you capture your video, there is a way to get it onto YouTube. Let me show you what you do.

We start with our digital camera or your camcorder. Now, once you record your question, you're going to want to put it on to your computer and then log on to YouTube.com. Create an account, that's the best way to manage your videos. Name your question -- we'll call this "Jacki's Question," and then upload the file from your system.

Once it's online, add it to the contest and you're done, it's that easy.

If you've got a cell phone with video, that's easy, too. YouTube gives the option of sending a question directly from your phone. Just shoot your video and then e-mail it. Question accomplished.

The final way is the quick capture version on YouTube.com. If you've got a have a webcam this is the easiest thing to do. Record yourself talking into the camera, quick capture it, then once you're done it takes a couple seconds to process and then it pops up online. It's that easy. In fact, there's only one challenge left, what do you want to ask? And, well that, I can't help you with.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Yeah, I guess we're on our own in that department, Jacki.

Moving up on the top of the hour and that's when Larry King will be joined by Tammy Faye Messner and she will talk very openly about her battle against cancer. We're going to be back after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: So, if you want to ask a Democratic candidate a question or you want to see more of the questions all together, please go to youtube.com/debates. Our debate countdown will continue tomorrow night. The debate itself is Monday night. It runs from 7:00 'til 9:00. In the meantime, that wraps it up for all of us here. We're really glad you joined us tonight. Again, we'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night. Until then, have a great night. LARRY KING LIVE starts shortly. Good night.

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