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Analysts, Voters Break Down the Debate; Hillary Clinton Responds to Debate

Aired October 15, 2008 - 22:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to spend the next 90 minutes reviewing what was said, making sure we get to the facts. We're doing some serious fact checks on all of the key issues, Anderson Cooper, that went forward. The wives coming forward.
Let's watch a little bit of this as we get ready for the next 90 minutes.

COOPER: This debate taking place at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. At times a blistering debate between the two. Both men sitting side by side, facing each other at times. Interesting to see the split screen, see the reaction of both men listening to the other speak.

This is the post-debate edition of 360. Welcome.

BLITZER: And as we watch this -- this reaction that's going forward, Anderson, at Hofstra University, I just want to alert our viewers to a few things that we're going to be going through over the course of the next 90 minutes.

We're standing by right now. Our pollsters are asking the American people who they thought did a better job. And we're going to bring you those numbers fairly soon.

Also, Anderson, we're going to go to Columbus, Ohio. Soledad has been meeting with that focus group you saw, those lines at the bottom of the screen, what they liked, what they didn't like. We'll go there.

We're also going to be speaking with Hillary Clinton. She's going to be joining us live. She knows something about these debates. She participated in several of them. And Rick Davis, the campaign manager for the McCain campaign, he'll be joining us.

And most interestingly, I think, we're finally going to hear that exchange between Barack Obama and Joe the plumber.

COOPER: Joe the plumber, who was talked about more than probably any plumber ever in presidential debates.

We're also going to have John King with the magic map, showing us where this race now stands and how it may or may not have changed after this debate.

Let's check in with our panelists. Let's find out some immediate perceptions. Let's start on the partisan side. Bill Bennett, your thoughts.

BILL BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Partisan side, right. Well, remember, last time I said I didn't think McCain broke through. I think he did this time. A very strong debate. Not since Nixon have we heard so much about plumbers, by the way.

But Joe Six-Pack has been replaced by Joe Plumber.

First of all, it was the best debate. Is there any question about that? Bob Schieffer did more in 30 minutes to generate interesting questions and answers than we saw in three hours in the others.

Here's what I saw of John McCain. He was aggressive, and he was strong. He was on offense. I thought Obama was flat, professorial, didn't rise to the occasion. I know people might say rise to the bait. But occasionally, you have to show, you know, a little reaction.

McCain was just hammering him, and I think he scored a lot of points. The most interesting thing to me about, thematically, was you saw a real contrast between a conservative and a liberal. You saw a consistent conservative refrain, what McCain was saying. He's going to spend, spend, spend, add programs and add programs. And a liberal refrain mantra from -- from Barack Obama. He will pick up points tonight.

COOPER: On the Democratic side, Paul Begala?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The problem is, it's not conservatives who are the swing voter in this election. It's independents. You know, by picking Sarah Palin, Senator McCain consolidated his conservative base, had a very successful convention. He needs to stop worrying about these conservatives. He should have been talking right to the people in the middle class.

I almost think Bill's right. The first 30 minutes McCain won. This is his best performance. But as it dragged on -- dragged on -- as it went on I think Obama did get his feet under him much better. And the reaction shots were killing McCain. You know, this is how Al Gore, quote, "lost" the debate with Bush. Most people thought he had the better arguments, but the reaction shots. He looked like, you know, Grumpy McNasty up there again.

COOPER: Not all the networks carried both split screens all the time. I think we carried it the most, and it will be interesting to see the difference between those who watched the split screen and those who didn't.

David Gergen, your response?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There are points I agree with both Bill and Paul. And that is I thought that McCain had the best start that he's had in any debate. The first 30 minutes I thought he excelled, playing very well to his base. Obama started a little, I though, flat. His first answer I thought he was flat. It then hit the personal animosity of the advertising, and then I thought McCain swerved off track. And he just...

BECK: Going small and Obama going for big?

GERGEN: He looked -- he got overemotional about it. He looked angry. And it was -- it was almost like an exercise in anger management up there for him to contain himself.

And Obama maintained his cool. And I thought that changed the tone of the debate and Obama won the last half hour. I thought Obama really did well on education, on abortion and health care.

CAMPBELL BROWN, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I would be curious to hear what they -- our partisans think, too. Because when I watched those attacks, and Bill Bennett, you said you thought that was important for him to go on the attack like that, but the tone was striking to me. The difference in tone.

And I was curious -- I mean, look, they've been launching -- they've launched that attack for the last two weeks. And if you look at the polls, clearly, the way they're trending, it hasn't worked for McCain. So I was sort of surprised, because we debated before -- beforehand whether or not he would take this move tonight to do that, even though you had encouraged him to. And I was surprised he did.

BENNETT: Remember, I said I wanted to see the fighter pilot. And I did see a lot of the fighter pilot tonight. I thought he was dignified, and I thought when he talked about the things he wanted to criticize Barack Obama about. He said, "I have called audiences on things. I have corrected people." You remember him correcting that woman, saying, "No, he is not an Arab. He's a fine man. He's a senator." That sort of thing.

But I think it's very important for him to show passion and for him to be on offense. Politics, you're on offense...


BENNETT: You're on offense or you're on defense. He was on offense. Obama was on defense.

COOPER: The focus groups did go down, though, whenever it got very nasty.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It always -- it always goes down when you draw differences with your opponents. Those are the rules. But guess what? Sometimes it's important.

And tonight Senator McCain was on offense on the economy. He was scoring points and had Barack Obama on defense on the economy. Big spending in Washington, taxes, Joe the plumber. And you know, I thought David Axelrod is pulling his hair out tonight. I thought his candidate had his worst debate, his flattest debate. Professorial, I think, as Bill Bennett said. McCain was, I thought, aggressive and eloquent. (CROSSTALK)

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But here's the deal. In terms of McCain came out very strong. The reality is, when you came to pocketbook issues, Obama scored well. Health care. Numbers off the charts. Scored well, education.

McCain was sort of in the middle. The reality is, McCain, where he failed was when he -- he spent more time talking about John Lewis and wanting an apology than trying to explain what he's going to do for the American people.

BENNETT: Why didn't he get one?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, call John Lewis if he wants an apology. So the reality is -- the bottom line is here: if you want to be president, talk to the American people. That's where I think he failed tonight. And that portion right there, he could have had an extremely strong night. He spent far too much time on Ayers and John Lewis.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN ANALYST: ... himself, I think is the important part. I also agree that McCain came out strong. Senator Obama was on defense for the first 20 minutes of this debate.

But what happened was McCain ruined it for himself, because when you're making a contrast, you can go negative. When you're doing -- when you're attacking on tax policy, you can go negative.

But it was Senator McCain who prolonged the discussion about Bill Ayers and about John Lewis and -- and the palling around with terrorists.

BEGALA: He went on and on and on.

ROSEN: He dragged himself down, and that, I think, gave Obama the chance to come back strong on issues that people care about.

BENNETT: He was pleased to talk about everything. He was pleased to talk about anything.

COOPER: For those who have covered this campaign on a daily basis, how do you think they did? What did you see tonight that you haven't seen or have heard plenty of times before -- Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I would agree this was not Obama's best debate. But he got across what he wanted to go across. I can tell you right now that his advisers think that the angry moment that you were talking about will be exactly what they will focus on. Oh, John McCain is an angry guy. And it will be that five, nine minutes worth. I mean, they're already talking about it. So that's where they're going to go.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN ANALYST: John McCain finally got to say tonight I am not George W. Bush. And that -- you know, that's a line... BROWN: That was the best line of the night.

BORGER: That's the line he's been waiting to say. And he finally -- he finally got it out there.

My problem on substance, Anderson, honestly was John McCain said he can still balance the budget in four years. I have absolutely no idea how he is going to do that. The answer is he can't do that.

But on the other hand, Barack Obama couldn't bring himself to say just what he would cut either. So I don't think we got any straight talk from these guys on it.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was by far McCain's best performance over the three debates. Did he win this one? Did he lose this one? I'll leave that to others to score who won the debate.

But it was by far McCain's most aggressive, assertive. He had points for what he was saying. He was trying to connect the dots, and to Alex's point, he was spending much -- as much time as he could until the diversionary stuff that I think we all agree most people probably don't care that much about, but pressing his economic argument.

And the key people out there, as Paul noted, are independents. Now, why are you independent? Because you don't want to belong to either party. If you don't want to belong to the Democratic Party and you're an independent, it's because you do worry that they spend too much money or that they will raise your taxes, if you're talking about the economic issues. Some independents think maybe the Democrats are too soft on national security.

But McCain going after the spending argument, the taxes argument was effective to try to reach those independents. You meet them when you travel the country.

A missed opportunity was perhaps to make the point that I think some over at that table have made on the right side of the equation, in that some independents do bring up the issue of Pelosi, Reed and Obama, a full Democratic government. And McCain missed that opportunity.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: For the first time in the whole campaign we heard about the future of the Unite States Supreme Court. That is going to be a crucial issue, and we also heard about abortion.

COOPER: And a very clear difference between the two.

TOOBIN: Very clear difference. And I think this is an issue where I thought Obama gave a very good pro-choice answer. He gave the best rational for that position. And most swing voters -- most swing voters are pro-choice. MARTIN: But he spent -- he spent way too much time on it. OK? When you saw McCain's initial answer he simply stuck to strict constructionists. I want to choose the right judges. Whereas Obama chose to go into a more deep conversation on abortion which then opened the door. It made no sense. You stick to the question as opposed to getting into the overarching debate on abortion. It doesn't help you.

BENNETT: He got into Chicago. He did not tell the truth about what he did as a state Senator.

COOPER: We've got to take a short break. Our coverage continues. You're going to have a lot more on this post-debate edition of 360. As we go to break all throughout this, we're going to show you some of the key moments from tonight's debate so if you missed any of it we're going to show you probably the most important exchanges that we witnessed over the last 90 minutes or so.

We'll take a short break. We'll be right back. Also, Check out our site online.


MCCAIN: Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush you should have run four years ago. I'm going to give a new direction to this economy and this country.



BLITZER: There it is. That's the hall where this debate, the historic debate, the third and final debate between these presidential candidates took place. The CNN Election Express right outside. We've got reporters standing by.

We also have Soledad O'Brien in Columbus, Ohio. She watched this with a focus group of undecided voters. We saw those squiggly lines, saw that at the bottom of the screen, how they were reacting to what these two men were saying.

But I'd like you to tell our viewers what they're thinking, what they're saying right now.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Very interesting to see for the first 30 minutes what we could see was clearly John McCain was getting some high marks from our panelists here, 30 people who were watching that debate. But I'll tell you, after 30 minutes those numbers started to change a bit.

So let's put the question to our panel. Please, show of hands if you think John McCain won the debate tonight. Raise your hands.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine people. A late add. Ten people believe that John McCain won. Am I correct to say everybody else thinks Barack Obama won? Raise your hands if you think Barack Obama won. We have one is just going to stay out of the vote. Abstaining. You think it was even Stephen?


O'BRIEN: OK. So across, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 people. So Barack Obama the winner, as determined by our panel, although I have to say the first 30 minutes it looked like you guys were giving very high marks to John McCain.

A couple of things they tried to do tonight. William Ayers, for example, a discussion. And let's start with Sarah, if we can. William Ayers -- we'd heard that John McCain might be bringing him up, and he did. What did you think of that discussion? You guys, dial meters way down on that. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was really apprehensive. I'm leaning towards McCain, voting for him. And I was apprehensive...

O'BRIEN: You're a registered Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am. I am. And I just knew that that would be a sign that he didn't really want to -- he has so much experience to bring to the forefront and so many good policies. I just wish he would have focused more on that than bringing up the negative Ayers comment.

O'BRIEN: The panel didn't respond to that. Denzel (ph), you also had an interesting response to that. What did you think about the William Ayers comments?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was interesting also. But I think Barack, he addressed the William Ayers issue directly, and he pretty much addressed it.

The one thing I didn't like is he didn't address the ACORN issue and the $800,000 and where that's being allocated. So on one aspect he did good, as far as the Ayers, but on the other I didn't think he did such a good job.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Joe the plumber, who happens to be a real guy. And not only is he a real guy, he's a real guy here in Ohio. Again, Joe the plumber's stories, everybody dialed down, did not like Joe the plumber.

Liz George, we've given you a mike. Why no resonance with Joe the plumber?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I appreciated the story. I know a lot of people in his situation. I needed less personal story and more specifics. How are McCain and Obama going to really crack the code on supporting small and medium-sized businesses in this country, because that's really what's going to drive the economic growth. And they just kept going back to telling the story again and again and again.

O'BRIEN: Did you think it was a gimmick, or did you think it was a genuine story and it just wasn't resonating?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe his -- his story was genuine but about the third or fourth time I heard it, it started to get gimmicky.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Nancy Kenny (ph), we started with you a little bit earlier today. Joe the plumber.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love Joe the plumber.

O'BRIEN: You're about the only one, I've got to tell you, on the panel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... why it was. Because I saw Joe the plumber on TV and then I heard him call into a TV shoe. It is a -- I have a small sales and management training business, and my clients are small to medium-sized sales organizations. And that's my audience.

O'BRIEN: You're Jill the plumber.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They won't invest in their people and grow their businesses.

O'BRIEN: The panel did not agree with you on the Joe the plumber every single time.

OK, so you know this was it. Last debate here. You have three weeks before the election. For how many people was this it, this was a defining moment? You actually have changed your mind because of this debate. Raise your hands. One, two, three 1/2, she's wiping her nose. She's not raising her hand at all. So a couple of folks. Can you tell me how you're going to vote? Who was my third?

So we have three people who say they've made the decision to vote for Barack Obama after being undecided.

All right. I thank our panel. We're going to ask you to stick around a little bit longer. Wolf, so there you have it. It was interesting to see, again, some of the stories that got a lot of media play in the panel. No resonance at all.

BLITZER: Soledad, thank you, and thank that group for us, as well. We really enjoyed seeing what they liked, what they didn't like during the course of that 90-minute debate. We're also polling Americans right now, and we're tabulating the numbers, getting ready to release those numbers to our flash poll. Who did better in this debate? Stand by for that.

We're also standing by to speak life with Hillary Clinton. We'll get her reaction to what happened, as well as with Rick Davis, the campaign manager for the McCain campaign. So we're going to continue our coverage. Much more coming up. is where you can get a lot of additional information. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


OBAMA: I don't mind being attacked for the next three weeks. What the American people can't afford, though, is four more years of failed economic policies. And what they deserve over the next four weeks is that we talk about what's most pressing to them: the economic crisis.



BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our coverage of this historic night, the third and final presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. We wan to get reaction now. We're going to be getting reaction from both sides.

Up first Senator Hillary Clinton is joining us right now from Hofstra University in her home state of New York.

Senator Clinton, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Thank you, Wolf. It's great to talk to you.

BLITZER: Is it true, as reports today, that Senator McCain actually called you within the past few days to pick your brain, to get some advice for you about the economic crisis the country is going through right now?

CLINTON: No. He called me a few weeks ago, Wolf. That's an old story that has been out and around. But obviously, the economic crisis is the No. 1 issue, and what we've seen during these past weeks is very steady leadership by Senator Obama. He's been cool, calm and collected.

I've talked to him several times about what we're going to have to do when he is president to make sure we get the economy working again for hard-working, middle-class families. And again tonight, you saw the command that he has, the commitment that he displays. And I thought it was another great performance. He's three for three.

BLITZER: Were you impressed tonight? What did you think when Senator McCain said flatly, "I am not President Bush," trying to distance himself from the incumbent president? Did you buy that?

CLINTON: Well, it's a little hard to buy that. He's obviously not the same person, but he has voted with President Bush about 90 percent of the time. So he has supported the Republican policies, which have contributed to the economic distress that our country is going through. And on issue after issue that's important to working families, middle-class families, people who are getting up every day, worried sick about whether they're going to have a job or what their 401(k) is going to have in it the next time they get their statement.

You know, the Republican policies which Senator McCain has supported have really contributed to this very difficult circumstance we find ourselves in. I think it's going to take a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress to repair the damage that has been done by President Bush and the Republicans who supported his policies.

BLITZER: Given the budget deficit right now projected at nearly half a trillion dollars right now, and it's going to go up, given the enormous taxpayer expenditures that are forecast, just to try to stabilize the markets, stabilize the credit market and other financial institutions, these candidates were asked by Bob Schieffer to tell us what they were going to have to scale back on as far as their promises to the American people are concerned. And they really didn't tell us that.

Is it realistic to think, for example, that Barack Obama, if elected, can do exactly what he's been saying he would do, given the enormous financial struggle the country is going through right now?

CLINTON: Well, I think what you've heard Barack say is that we're going to prioritize.

You know, I've lived through this, Wolf. I mean, the day after the election in 1992, the first Bush administration announced that the deficit was going to be much greater than they had ever admitted before and, of course, a smart, committed president like what Barack Obama will be, has to make decisions.

He obviously wants to maintain his broad commitment to the kind of reform and change that America is desperate for. But he knows -- he's pragmatic, he is smart -- that he's going to have to figure out how to navigate through this enormous economic challenge that is going to be waiting for him on January 20.

I have a lot of confidence in his ability. I have a lot of confidence in his running mate and the team that they are putting together. And I know that he's going to make very good decisions for our country.

BLITZER: What was it like, Senator Clinton, for you personally to sit in this audience at Hofstra University out on Long Island and watch these two men debate, knowing that you were oh, so close. You could have been up there yourself?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, I was thrilled I was at Hofstra University on Long Island. I'm very proud of the university and really happy that this third debate took place in New York.

I was very honored to be here and to be able to speak to you on behalf of the Obama campaign, to continue the work that I'm doing to try to elect Senator Obama. I feel so strongly that we've got to have new leadership. He offers that leadership.

And many of the policies that I have fought for and believe in, not just during my presidential campaign but my entire adult life, are ones that I have confidence that he's going to do his very best to try to further, given the realities that we're going to inherit come next January.

So it was great being here tonight.

BLITZER: One final question, Senator Clinton, before I let you go. I know you've got a tough schedule over there. If he's elected, Barack Obama, president, and he asks you to give up your position as a United States senator and join him in the Cabinet, is that something you would consider doing?

CLINTON: Well, I really want to stay a senator. I am committed to being in the Senate, working with President Obama. I think we have a real chance to break the gridlock, get things done, start progress going again in America. And I want to be part of that in the Senate.

And one of the lessons that I took away from my husband's administration is don't take senators out of the Senate. You need every Democratic senator that you possibly can have. You know, we still might have to face a filibuster if we don't get to 60 Democratic senators.

We can't afford to whittle down the majority that President Obama will need to make some very hard decisions that will be in the best interest of our country.

So I am looking forward to being a senator, continuing my life- long work, to try to come up with ways that will help every person live up to his or her God-given potential. And I'm excited about working with President Obama on health care, energy, and all of the other important matters before our nation.

BLITZER: Senator Clinton, thanks very much for joining us.

CLINTON: Thank you very much, Wolf.