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Election Presidential Debate: The Voters Respond

Aired October 11, 2000 - 11:10 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: The campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where, about 40 minutes ago, the second presidential debate ended, of this election in the year 2000 -- two down and one to go. The one presidential debate to come: next Tuesday night in St. Louis, Missouri.

We've already sent our early deployment in there. His name is Wolf Blitzer. He's been meeting tonight with a group of voters in the St. Louis area.

Wolf, we're very anxious to know what they are thinking and saying about what they have heard.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, we have gathered 26 of those voters who have not yet completely made up their minds -- at least going into this debate -- here at the Lodge at Grant's Trail, just outside of St. Louis.

And let's get a show of hands -- a very quick show of hands -- who thinks that Al Gore won this debate? Raise their hand. We've got one, two. Two people thing Al Gore won the debate. Who thinks George W. Bush won the debate. We've got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 people thought Bush won.

And who thinks neither won this debate? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 -- 11. So clearly, more people thought George W. Bush won this debate than Al Gore, which, of course, is similar to the instant Gallup poll, which we just reported. About 40 minutes -- the first 40 minutes or so -- was involved in international policy: a big chunk on the Middle East. How do you think they did?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they spent way too much time on foreign policy. I would have liked to have heard more about domestic policy. On foreign policy, usually the administration, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, determine what's going to transpire, as far as how as they are going to handle the situations. And they usually seem to turn out correct.

I was hoping the three topics they would have spoke about tonight would have been tax cuts, the economy, and energy. I think they spent 30 seconds on tax cuts, and...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have to disagree with that, because I think this is something that is on the verge of erupting. And it's going to be critical to whoever the next president is. It could involve our troops. I was happy to hear that we were going to be an honest broker, whichever of the men are elected. And I encourage use of diplomacy, but I was happy to hear Bush say that he would have a strong military, with the antiballistic missile development, also.

BLITZER: There wasn't a whole of difference -- disagreement on the Middle East, was there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, there wasn't too much disagreement. It was one of the issues, like a lot of them, they agreed upon. And, you know, I do know -- I think that they did put a lot on foreign policy. Like he had said, I think they could have focused on some other areas also. Regarding the Middle East, I did think it was interesting that Gore had pointed the finger at Bush's father. You know, he left this mess.

But Gore and Clinton had eight years to clean it up. And it's still the same.

BLITZER: The woman sitting next to you: Do you think they spent too much time talking about international affairs?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't think so at all. I think we need to. And I personally wanted to see what George Bush was going to do. We've seen a little bit of Gore on the national level, but not George Bush. But I thought it was interesting that George Bush, bottom line, said: Middle East, we need the oil.

BLITZER: And do you think that he did well, given his relative lack of experience in discussing these issues?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I -- I thought he held his own. I did.

BLITZER: Held his own.

What about over here? What did you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, one of the issues coming into this evening was credibility. And being a life-long Missourian, the Show- Me state, is what you say before the election to get my vote is what you should and better do after the election. So that was a key issue to me this evening.

BLITZER: And did you -- did it help make up your mind?


BLITZER: Do you want to tell us who you are going to vote for?


BLITZER: As a result of this debate -- second debate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mm-hmm. BLITZER: You know, the whole issue of credibility and character certainly came up near the end of the debate. I want to run this excerpt from that exchange, because it has been in the headlines these last several days. Listen to this.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we all make mistakes. I've been known to mangle a syllable or two myself. But...


BUSH: If you know what I mean. I think credibility is important. It's going to be important to be -- for the president to be credible with Congress, important for the president to be credible with foreign nations. And, yes, I think it's something that people need to consider. This isn't something new. I read a report or a memo from somebody in his 1988 campaign -- I forgot the fellow's name -- warning then-Senator Gore to be careful about exaggerating claims.

And, you know, I thought during his debate with Senator Bradley, saying he authored the EITC, when it didn't happen. He mentioned the last debate...


BUSH: Earned income tax credit.

LEHRER: Sorry.

BUSH: That's all right. Lot of initials for a guy who's not from Washington, isn't it? Anyway, I -- he co-sponsored McCain- Feingold. And yet he didn't. And so I think this is an issue. And I think -- I found it to be an issue in trying to defending my tax relief package. I thought there were some exaggerations about the numbers. But the people are going to have to make up their mind on this issue.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the reasons I regret it is that it -- getting a detail wrong interfered several times with the point that I was trying to make. However many days that young girl in Florida stood in her classroom, however long -- even if it was only one day -- doesn't change the fact that there are a lot of overcrowded classrooms in America.

And we need to do something about that. There are seniors who pay more for their prescriptions than a lot of other people -- more than their pets sometimes. I can't promise that I will never get another detail wrong. I can promise you that I will try not to -- and hard. But I will promise you this, with all the confidence in my heart and in the world: that I will do my best if I'm elected president. I'll work my heart out to get the big things right for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: You say you're now going to support George W. Bush. Was it that exchange that helped solidify your position, the issue of exaggeration and credibility, character?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly. I think -- it wasn't in the clip, but also, it said -- Mr. Gore said that he was going to try. Trying is very nice. But I want to see people who are going to do things in government.

BLITZER: What about over here? What do you think? You said, going into this debate, before the debate, that credibility and character was important for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say that I -- I enjoyed Mr. Gore's demeanor tonight much more than the previous debate. He cleaned up his act a great deal. I thought he was much more presidential. A big reason to me why this is such an issue right now is because of all of the misbehaving, so to speak, that's been going on for the last eight years.

And a lot of that, Mr. Gore can't be held responsible for. But there is some of it that he has been involved in, some of the campaign fund-raising situations. And so it comes down to a fact of: Is this an individual that I can trust? When he tells me x is x, is that the case? So I think it's a legitimate issue.

BLITZER: Have you made up your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, pretty much, yes.

BLITZER: Which way are you leaning?


BLITZER: Mr. Bush.

What about over here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think credibility is important. And that's just another word for integrity. And you have to have credibility and integrity to go forward and lead this country, to make yourself believable to everybody out there.

Along those lines, I kind of want to digress to a comment made by the young lady in front of me, where she mentioned that children didn't have health care. And I reflected back to my notes, where George Bush was saying that that was youth health care, where young workers opted out on their own from taking medical insurance, because they felt they were not needing of it, as their youth precluded them from having to buy that health insurance.

And he was suggesting to go into a medical savings account. And I just wanted to make that kind of a clarity issue.

BLITZER: So you are leaning towards Bush right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, I am, yes.

BLITZER: All right, give her the microphone. Let her respond, since you're referring to what she said. Tell us what you think.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually, that's not what he said. I wrote down what he said. And he said: Healthy children don't need health insurance. That's what the -- that's the comment that I'm reacting to. And I think that all children need health insurance. And I question if it is a priority for Governor Bush.

Health insurance and other children's -- particularly poor children, we have 12 million poor children living below the poverty guidelines. And I have not heard anything that impressed me that -- would be done for those children: health care, other safety net programs, after-school programs, day care. I haven't heard any of those things.

BLITZER: So you are leaning towards Gore?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I am leaning towards Gore.

BLITZER: I think this woman back here -- can you can pass the microphone back to this woman? Here it is. Yes, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree with the gentleman over here. I have four children. Three of them are healthy. One is disabled. And I believe that if he would have said that, I would have certainly picked up on that. I did not hear him say that at all.

BLITZER: And so you're leaning toward...


BLITZER: And coming in, where were you leaning before the...


BLITZER: And now clearly going to...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I've made up my mind.

BLITZER: You're going to vote for Bush.


BLITZER: All right. What about over here? In the back...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if I may, this is a misquote. What he said was young people who think that they should not need health care because they're young and healthy would be able to put those funds into some sort of investment. He did not say that young children don't need health care.

My comment on this is that although it's a far more improved format, what they seem to be doing is pointing out all their similarities, and that makes, I think, those of us -- at least for myself -- that are on the fence on this election makes it even tougher to make a decision.

BLITZER: You're still on the fence?


BLITZER: What -- is there one specific issue you're going to look for to make up your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is several. There are several, and even if there were not, I would still hold my judgment until the election.

BLITZER: People paying close attention to what was said here in Lemay, Missouri. We have a lot more to talk about. We'll also bring in Tamala Edwards of "TIME" magazine. She's over in North Carolina, listened very closely. We'll ask her some questions as well. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our CNN and "TIME" town meeting, "The Voters Decide." Joining us now is Tamala Edwards of "TIME" magazine. She's in North Carolina at Wake Forest University, watching this -- she watched this debate very closely.

Health care was such an important issue, especially the governor's record in Texas, which the vice president sought to underscore, saying it was not a good record. You've been doing a lot of reporting on the governor's record involving health care in Texas. What can you tell us, Tamala, about the real situation?

TAMALA EDWARDS, "TIME": You know, this is fascinating to me, Wolf. I mean, the first two-thirds of the debate almost was I think a Christmas present for "Economist" subscribers because they spent so much time on foreign policy. But when they got into the more domestic issues, I think the sharpest exchange came over health care, and you'll see a couple of things happen over the next couple of days. You'll see reporters start to comb over those particular answers and see which gentleman was correct in talking about both the Texas record as well as Governor Bush's charges about the national rate of health insurance, and also you'll see the campaigns, I think, sharply come out on these points.

You can bet that the Gore campaign will continue to drive away at the Texas record: namely, the insurance of children. And you'll also see George Bush try to come back and on this and other points say that the administration hasn't done what it needed to do.

So I thought that was a key sharp exchange between the two that sets the stage for what we'll see in the next week.

BLITZER: And you know, we have a sample of that exchange, I believe, on health care, the record in Texas. Let's play that segment from the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: If he's trying to allege that I'm a hard-hearted person and I don't care about children, he's absolutely wrong. We spend $4.7 billion a year in the state of Texas for uninsured people, and they get health care. It's not the most efficient way to give people health care.

But I want to remind you the number of uninsured in America during their watch has increased. And so make any excuse he wants, but the facts are that we're reducing the number of uninsured as a percentage of our population and as a percentage of the population that's increasing nationally.

But somehow the allegation of we don't care and we're going to give money for this interest or that interest and not for children in the state of Texas is just totally absurd.



GORE: I don't claim to know his heart. I think -- I think he's a good person. I make no allegations about that. I believe him when he says that he has a good heart. I know enough about your story to admire a lot of the things that you have done as a person.

But I think it's about his priorities, and let me tell you exactly why I think that the choice he made to give a tax cut for the oil companies before addressing this -- I mean, if you were the governor of a state that was dead last in health care for families and all of a sudden you found yourself with the biggest surplus your state had ever had in its history, wouldn't you want to maybe use some of it to climb from 50th to, say, 45 or 40 or something, or maybe better?


BLITZER: Tamala Edwards, I'm going to get back to you in a second. Let's get some reaction from these undecided voters or at least previously undecided voters here in Missouri. Let's begin back here. Tell us what you thought about that exchange on health care.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, the problem I have with the health care exchange is a problem I have on a lot of the issues with these candidates, is they acknowledge that there's a problem with uninsured children or a crisis in the Social Security fund, but then they suggest these little Band-Aid solutions for them. I mean, Gore didn't even propose a policy solution. He just said it would be my top priority and left it at that. And Bush brought out some plans, but they're very minor. I mean, $2,000 is not enough money for a family to purchase health insurance with.

So I'd like the candidates to express more vision, to try something bold. Even if it can't be implemented, it would be good to see what it is they would like to do, because as it is, that's what makes me disaffected in this campaign and might cause me to vote a third-party candidate.

BLITZER: Is that what you're leaning for right now?


BLITZER: Which third party candidate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That I haven't decided.

BLITZER: But you're still -- you're still thinking about it.

What about over here, on health care, which is such an important issue to so many millions of voters. I assume it's an important issue for you as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it certainly is, and I have children myself, and I do worry a lot about the whole deal. I can't believe what a mess this system is at the present time. And I thought Bush handled it very well with his programs, and I particularly liked his talk about local health centers. I hadn't heard that proposal before, and the association plans and the investment plans that he's got for the young families. I thought all of that was very good.

And when Gore started attacking him on, you know, Texas is last, he didn't come back swinging. He just emphasized how much has been spent and how much improvement there's been under his watch, and of course, that Clinton and Gore haven't done any better.

BLITZER: So it sounds like you're leaning in one -- toward one candidate right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, but there are a few issues that I just can't quite get over: the gun control and abortion. Bush really has a hard way to go with me on that.

BLITZER: So you might still vote for Gore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it still could go either way.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be watching. What about over here? What did you think about the health care issue?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like what Bush said on health care. I think he has more of a challenge in getting all of his state's residents insured because of the large immigrant population they have in Texas. So maybe the numbers aren't quite as fair to him as they might be in other states.

I do like that he said the access to community health centers -- in our area here, that's a real problem. And I think all over the country there should be a very wide access.

And I like what he said about all seniors should have prescription drug coverage. I see my parents making medical decisions based on how much the prescriptions cost, and that really bothers me. I think everyone should have access to the best health care they can get.

BLITZER: So which direction are you moving toward?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm leaning toward Bush.

BLITZER: Were you leaning that way coming in?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I was, but I have problems with his gun control policy and also his environmental policy?

BLITZER: So you still haven't completely made up your mind?


BLITZER: Al Gore still has one more debate before you make up your mind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, and I will listen to that.

BLITZER: What about the woman sitting next to you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I disagree with her with the issue. I think Gore's, right now, what he asked to Governor Bush was that about the Texas record. And Bush, he don't have any answer. He didn't give us direct answer. To me, that's -- the record is right. So if he cannot do it for the Texas, how I'm going to trust him to -- to do the country?

So, right now, that's the main issue, which is a health care, because I have a kid. So I'm now -- right now I'm leaning toward Gore. And then the other thing is gun control. And in the gun control, I like both them talked about the problems. But I think Gore have got the solution, which -- about what he is going to do about -- the solution -- is I think Gore is better.

BLITZER: So you are -- you are going to vote for Al Gore?


BLITZER: All right, one for Al Gore.

What about over here? The health care issue is a critical issue. I know it's an important issue for you as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. I believe that health care should be a priority, not just for the -- not just for the young folks, or for the children like this. But I think it should be something we are looking at as far as the older folks are concerned, because it kind of gets to the point, probably, to where that their insurance maybe with the company they work for or retired from, their insurance has run out and stuff like this.

So they certainly need some help in that area. And, as far as insurance for the younger folks, I have a son that's 27 years old. And he pays his own insurance. And it gets very expensive. And so I think that we really need some -- you know, some focus on this health care.

BLITZER: Who -- who had a better vision, as far you are concerned?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I'm concerned -- well, I'm still kind of straddling the fence. But one thing that I really disagree with on what a couple of the folks here have said is the community health center, because I find, a lot of times, the people talking about the community health center is the place where you go and you're liable to sit there all day before you never get in to see a doctor -- and things like this.

And so I think that that's -- I really have a problem with that. So anyhow, that's the way I feel about it.

BLITZER: All right, people taking notes, people listening very carefully.

We have a lot more to talk about: specific issues. We're going to do that as soon as we come back from this commercial break.


BLITZER: Tamala Edwards of "Time" magazine, there's a clear difference of opinion between George W. Bush and Al Gore on the issue of guns in America. How important is this issue? And how important is this difference?

EDWARDS: Wolf, it's a very important issue, particular with women voters, which are an important swing group. I think the -- you know, you saw the Million Mother March this summer. And the two gentlemen have very different views on this. Al Gore has a much stricter attitude towards gun control. George Bush, on the other hand, doesn't support things like licensing, certainly not things like registration.

In fact, neither gentleman wants registration. But you see Al Gore saying things like we need to restrict the number of guns that get into the hands of criminals and children. And you see Al -- George Bush saying things more along the lines of we to enforce the existing laws. And I think, for people at home, the idea of do the laws already work -- when they look at something like Columbine, do they think that that was a matter of the police not doing a good job, or do they think that that was a problem of guns getting into the hands of those two kids?

And that will influence which of the two men that they thought gave a better answer.

BLITZER: All right. Tamala, stand by.

I want to get the reaction on this issue of guns from some of the swing voters who have assembled here in Missouri. What do think about that? Is this an important issue here in Missouri, the whole issue of gun control?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I think it very much is. And it is -- there's a lot of differences here in this particular area. With respect to the debate, I didn't see a lot of distinction with -- as with much of the debate, I saw very little distinction between the candidates on this issue. I know there is, from having read some in "Newsweek" and so forth.

BLITZER: George W. Bush does not want to have licensing of new handgun owners. Al Gore does.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But -- but I think that -- it is a different issue, though. I think the way that they are approaching, it is almost a state sovereignty issue. And, it -- again, I don't see a whole lot of -- a whole lot of difference there.

BLITZER: Well, let's ask this woman next to you: What about this whole issue of guns? Is that something you are paying attention to?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is something I do pay attention to. That is one of the issues that, coming into the debate, I have leaned, you know, maybe more towards Bush because of that. That is one of my main issues I was aware of.

I guess my outlook on the whole thing is, once you start controls on guns -- it's happened in Canada, it's happened in Australia, it's happened in England -- government takes total control of it. And, you know, I -- like everyone says, guns don't kill people. I believe people kill people.

BLITZER: So you are leaning one way or another now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm leaning towards Bush.

BLITZER: All right. There was an exchange, also, on the whole issue of hate crimes: whether there is a new law that the federal government should pass in the aftermath of the murder of James Byrd in Texas. Listen to this exchange between the two candidates.


GORE: Well, I had thought that there was a controversy at the end of the legislative session where the hate crimes law in Texas was -- failed and that the Byrd family, among others, asked you to support it, Governor, and it died in committee for lack of support. Am I wrong about that?

BUSH: Well, you don't realize we have a hate crime statute...

GORE: I'm talking about the one that was proposed to deal...

BUSH: Well, what the vice president must not understand is we got a hate crimes bill in Texas. And secondly, the people that murdered Mr. Byrd got the ultimate punishment...

LEHRER: But they were...

BUSH: ... the death penalty.

LEHRER: They were prosecuted under the murder laws, were they not...

BUSH: Well...

LEHRER: ... in Texas?

BUSH: In this case, when you murder somebody, it's hate, Jim.

LEHRER: No, but...

BUSH: Crime is hate. And they got -- and they got the ultimate punishment. I'm not exactly sure how you enhance the penalty any more than the death penalty. Well, we happen to have a statute on the books that's a hate crimes statute in Texas.

GORE: The law that was proposed in Texas, that had the support of the Byrd family and a whole lot of people in Texas, did in fact die in committee. There may be some other statute that was already on the books, but certainly the advocates of the hate crimes law felt that a tough new law was needed.

And it's important, Jim, not only -- not just because of Texas, but because this mirrors the national controversy. There is pending now in the Congress a national hate crimes law


BLITZER: Just to clarify one point: We are told that, of the three who were accused in the murder of the African-American, James Byrd, in Texas, two received the death sentence. One received life in prison. Is this an important issue, this whole issue of new legislation to deal with hate crimes against specific targeted groups?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be. I would have to see more on it, because I don't know that that could do more, much like Governor Bush said, to -- to prosecute those that are guilty of those games. If a hate crimes bill or law can show me that it goes further, does more, prosecutes better, than the existing laws, then so be it. Great idea. But I don't see how it can at this juncture.

BLITZER: So you are not yet convinced.

What about you ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think that when he said that the killing of the man was considered hate -- or any murder is considered hate -- a hate crime, I'm thinking that this is something that is done to someone who is a racist, who is, you know, shooting -- a white person shooting an African-American person. When he said that it was any murder is considered a hate -- I mean, people murder people for no reason.

BLITZER: Have you made up your mind?


BLITZER: OK. Well, we have a very, very diverse group of people here in Missouri, Bernie and Judy. But by and large, more of them think George W. Bush did better tonight than Al Gore. And several of them say they have now made up their minds -- seem to be Bush slightly ahead -- here at least -- among these 26 previously undecided voters -- back to you.

WOODRUFF: All right, Wolf, some very interesting comments there on the part of those voters. And we want to go to Bill Schneider, because we have more results now on our poll. And I should say, Bill, we do have a little bit of bad news for those folks in St. Louis. The Cardinals lost tonight 6 to 2 to the New York Mets -- not good news for the people of St. Louis.


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I shall refrain from commenting, as a lifelong New Yorker.



SCHNEIDER: George Bush had to resolve doubts. So did Al Gore. And let's see how they did tonight. Bush had to resolve doubts that -- of what Gore called the bumbling, babbling Bush. That's what the campaign called it. Is Bush intelligent enough to be a good president, we asked: 70 percent -- an impressive -- in fact, overwhelming margin -- said yes, Bush is smart enough to be president.

Now, the doubts about Gore were the accusations that he is a serial exaggerator. He can't be trusted. Did the viewers say Gore is trustworthy enough to be a good president? Well, 56 percent, a majority, said yes. But 40 percent, that is a big minority there. There are a lot of people with significant doubts that Gore is a trustworthy figure.

Now, we also have some interesting head-to-head comparisons between the two candidates. Gore's strength was supposed to be the issues. So we asked: Who agreed with you more on issues that you cared about? And the edge goes here to George Bush -- surprising. But they agreed with Bush more on the issues. What about likability? That is supposed to be George Bush's strong suit.

And yes, it is. He clearly outdistanced Gore by almost two-to- one as the more likable candidate. Believability: the credibility issue where Gore is supposed to have a problem. And there, too, more people said Bush was a credible candidate, more believable, than Al Gore. Did Al Gore score above Bush on anything at all? Well, yes on one thing.

Who expressed himself more clearly? There the viewers gave the edge to Gore: 47 to 39. Gore was seen as the more articulate candidate. He -- in the case of George Bush, Gore's people call him a bumbling, babbling Bush. He may bumble. He may babble. But the viewers did not think he was either stupid or a fool.

GREENFIELD: Now, let's just do what we did last week and point out -- as we have been telling each other we would -- that sometimes you need that second- and third-day story. And it seems me, there are a couple areas here where the Bush campaign needs to be careful.

One is in the specifics of what Gore charged on the health care in Texas. I think we are going hear a lot more of that. And Bush did not answer that question directly. The second are on issues like gun control and the environment, where the Gore campaign has been saying all along, they think on those issues, they are going to be able to paint Bush out of the mainstream.

And it seems to me -- the last point I would is that Texas -- and I have been wondering why it has not happened, you know, so far -- Texas and the governor's record in Texas is clearly going to be a major, major source of attack. It has already been on the air in commercials. I think we are going to be hearing that for the next 27 days.

WOODRUFF: But whether -- to what extent that resonates with voters in the rest of country, we don't know. We just heard some of these voters Wolf was talking with in Missouri saying, you know, they thought it was a Gore attack, and that Bush -- one of them said -- I think it was a woman -- said that it that it was better that Bush didn't try respond and attack back.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Two points -- and I think the vice president underscored the fact -- when we talk about the use of words, pejorative words like bumbling and stupid, Gore has not called Bush bumbling or stupid. It is these campaigns that are using this highly charged rhetoric, which we in the news media report. And it really -- it poisons the air. But I can never recall either candidate calling the other a dirty name.

SCHNEIDER: Well, they distance themselves from those charges. But it is true that their campaigns are raising those issues, often on the Web sites. The candidates say: I would never speak such language.

But the fact is, they have clearly authorized the use of that language in their campaigns.

WOODRUFF: Two folks I want to bring into the discussion now: from St. Louis, Bob Novak, "Chicago Sun Times," a regular contributor on the political coverage here on CNN; Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times," another regular contributor.

Bob Novak, we are talking about this whole notion of credibility, believability, the Texas record for Governor Bush. Where do you see all this coming down? Who do you think did better?

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, CNN "CROSSFIRE": Well, you know, I thought it was very strange debate tonight, because the first 42 minutes was on foreign policy, which really the voters don't care that much about. And also, there was very little on the big issues of the campaign: taxes, size of the government, Social Security, even prescription drugs. Another...

WOODRUFF: But there was lot on that last week, Bob, was there not?

NOVAK: That is right. But it doesn't mean there shouldn't have been more tonight. But that was the moderator's decision. The other factor is, I thought that Al Gore was like Mark McGwire -- since we are talking about St. Louis a lot tonight -- going into a baseball game without a bat. He is a very hard, mean campaigner. He has been that way all his life.

And they have told him he had to really subdue himself. So he was less effective than he normally is, because he couldn't make these roundhouse swings at Governor Bush without fear of being called too mean. I thought that, except for the fact that I thought Governor Bush was infective in answering his charges about Texas, I thought he did very well,

He -- particularly, he didn't look dumb, as the voters in the poll looked. I thought that Al Gore needed a win tonight. And at best, he got a draw, and maybe a small defeat.

WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein.

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Yes, I wasn't surprised by your poll, because I thought that the single most effective thing that happened for either candidate tonight was that Bush probably went a long way toward resolving doubts about readiness to be president. The 41 or 42 minutes -- 41 by my watch -- on foreign policy may have seemed a little abstract and obtuse to people at times.

But the fact is that Bush was coherent and held his own through it. And I thought that through the whole debate, he was a somewhat more vivid presence than Gore. I mean, Gore was not only sort of cautious in going after Bush, but he seemed to me rather tentative at different points about pressing his own agenda. One interesting example, in point, was when gun control finally came up, Gore went through his whole initial answer without mentioning his proposal to require photo licensing of new handgun owners.

It only came up when Bush brought it up. And then Gore came back and defended it. And, similarly, when they talked about health care and expanding coverage to the uninsured, Gore spent most of his answer talking -- trying to reinforce his credentials on fiscal conservatism, saying he was going to do all this within the context of a balanced budget.

So I thought that, in some ways, he seemed a little hesitant about pressing some of his points, except in the area -- I agree with Bob very much -- of the Texas record, where Bush, I thought, was very weak, in talking about the emissions, the grandfather plants, certainly on the health care, and even having some trouble certainly on the hate crimes, as well.

(CROSSTALK) SHAW: Ron and Bob, just a question -- something you just said, Bob -- I want your and Ron's reaction. Isn't it pathetic that, as you say, voters don't care about foreign policy?

NOVAK: No, I don't think so, Bernie. I think...

(CROSSTALK) SHAW: You don't think so, given the position of this nation?

NOVAK: No. No, I believe in democracy. And the American people really don't want to mess around with the rest of the world. And, if -- if a crisis comes up, they will. But that is the way we are. That is the kind of country we are. And that is always been the kind of country we are. I -- Bernie, if I could just add one thing on...

SHAW: Sure, go ahead.

NOVAK: ... on this Texas, I -- it is a very kind -- exotic kind of strategy to decide that the governor's record is going to be the keystone -- in governing Texas is going to be the keystone of the campaign. The Republicans tried it against Bill Clinton's record in Arkansas in '92 -- didn't work very well -- worked a little better against Dukakis in Massachusetts in ''88.

But, by and large, I don't think that that is the kind of issue that is going to move undecided voters, even if Governor Bush has been less than effective in defending his record.

WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein, do you think that the vice president could have been more aggressive under the circumstances, coming out of the reaction to last week's debate?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think he could have been more vivid in drawing the contrasts, certainly. I mean, I think personally, he probably struck the right tone. He was, you know: As far as I know, it may be, I may have misunderstood.

He was trying not to be the know-it-all. And I think also the format doesn't really encourage to really go try to rip the other guy's lungs out. After the Lieberman-Cheney debate getting such good reviews, I think both of them felt constrained by that. But nonetheless, on an issue-contrast point of view in an area like guns, I thought he was very tentative. Even in the environment, he was somewhat tentative in drawing the contrast.

It made you feel that Bush had a clearer idea of who he was trying to talk to and how he was trying to reach them than Vice President Gore did. And I was somewhat surprised by that.

NOVAK: I think he sometimes stumbled to -- you know, he said he was against legalizing gay marriage. And then he saw an opening and said: Gee -- to Bush -- you -- you disagree with me and Lieberman and Cheney, when he had just come out and said he was against gay marriage. So there is these -- these little Gore-isms. I don't know if anybody notices it -- but not very effective. GREENFIELD: Let me offer -- it is Jeff Greenfield here -- let me offer you both a quick hypothesis and see what you think: that the challenge posed to both of these people by the first debate was much -- was, as it turns out, more easily dealt with by Bush than Gore -- that is, if Gore's advisers told him stop being the smartest kid in the class, at times, he almost seemed sedated whereas what Bush needed to do was have a tutorial in foreign policy, drop about eight foreign policy references throughout his remarks, and it sounded pretty reasonable. What do you think of that notion?

NOVAK: I think that...

BROWNSTEIN: A Joey Ramone candidate, "I want to be sedated." Well, look, I think that Bush clearly handled the first half of the debate very well. I mean, he went -- I think Jeff there were five separate times I counted -- Colombia, Mexico, Bosnia, Kosovo, a few others -- where he praised Clinton's handling of foreign policy, trying to reinforce his credentials as a centrist, as someone who would work in a bipartisan manner. And as your poll suggested, I think he really probably did himself a lot of good, especially after that first debate, in convincing people that he was ready to be president.

Gore's issue is a little more amorphous: Can you trust him? Is he likable? He probably made some progress on that front tonight, but not as much as Bush did in solving his problem. And again...

NOVAK: I thought.

BROWNSTEIN: Go ahead. Sorry, Bob.

NOVAK: I thought I thought that Governor Bush was also effective in the foreign policy and drawing one distinction on nation building. Again, I doubt that many people really care, but I thought as a debater he was effective there.

Jeff, I think you're quite right there, because all Bush had to do was a study up a little bit, put in some elbow grease in trying to learn the facts while Gore had to effect a personality change. That isn't Al Gore's personality politically to come out and be Mr. Nicey- Nice. And so it was very difficult and it wasn't entirely successful from the standpoint of debating.

BROWNSTEIN: He didn't kiss Jim Lehrer, though, as some people thought, you know. That was...

WOODRUFF: He didn't what?

BROWNSTEIN: He didn't kiss Jim Lehrer, you know. Some people thought it would have been the personality -- but I think we have -- Jeff's point from before, I think: We all have to be a little chastened in our reaction giving how surprising the turn was in the fact that Gore won the polls on who won the first debate overnight. But clearly, the movement in the polls thereafter that count, in the horse race, was toward Bush. So we have to see how this settled out. But I'd be surprised if Bush didn't help himself on that one dimension that your poll already cited: preparation, readiness to be president, steadiness, intelligence, those kinds of dimensions.

NOVAK: But Ron, you and I have seen a lots of debates such as, for example -- it comes to mind -- the first Reagan-Mondale debate in Louisville in 1984 where, one guy really clobbered the other one. It was Mondale. This was obviously not a debate where the...


NOVAK: ... one of the candidates was left bleeding on the floor of the ring. It was -- we're talking about nuances anyway, and so I can't believe it's going to move the polls greatly. But we could all be surprised, I suppose.

BROWNSTEIN: The equilibrium in this race points back toward dead-heat almost at every juncture, and I think it's hard to imagine we're going to get very far away from that.

WOODRUFF: All right, Ron Brownstein, Bob Novak, no dead-heat in this discussion, and this is certainly one of those instances when we're all better off for having observers like the two of you, who have seen a couple of these before this election, unlike the rest of us who -- this is our first election.


Ron and Bob, thank you both.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

NOVAK: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We're going to take a break, and pretty soon we'll be back -- in fact, very shortly we'll be back with more of our special coverage of tonight's presidential debate.


SHAW: As part of our very extensive campaign 2000 presidential debate coverage, Tucker Carlson and Bill Press are in the spin room. Let's look over their shoulders and see what they're cooking up -- gentlemen.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST, CNN "CROSSFIRE": All right, Bernie, thank you. I know Wolf tonight, we were watching, has been talking to a lot of undecided voters down there. Well, guess what: Tucker and I have been talking to a lot of people who are just the opposite. They've made up their minds, they support Bush or Gore, they want to talk about it. In fact, Tucker, some of them have already started talking about it, according to e-mails we're getting.

TUCKER CARLSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They're pretty darned decided, Bill, I have to say. "A politician," this from John in West Virginia, "A politician with 24 years experience can sit and look pretty for 90 minutes. This ought to be a piece of cake for Gore," says John in West Virginia.

This is what the Gore people thought starting out tonight. I don't think they agree with John anymore.

PRESS: I thought both of them sat there for 90 minutes and looked pretty but didn't say very much.

But anyhow, here's -- here's from Jacob in Florida. "Gore definitely got the upper hand in this debate. How could Bush support everything the current administration has done? If he likes their decisions so much, why can't he leave them in power?" That's a pretty good question actually.

CARLSON: That's a solid question actually, not bad at all.

PRESS: Thank you, Jacob.

CARLSON: Gayle (ph) in California says: "I am watching the debate and Bush is winning hands down." Amen, Gayle. "It's time everyone stops criticizing Governor Bush for his innocent slips of the tongue. These slips are normal. They happen to everyone."

So clearly, Bush has the dyslexic community support.


He pronounced everything correctly tonight, even amenable.

PRESS: All right. We've got a lot more e-mails we'll be getting to. That's just a taste of what we're going to have to say, and you can have your say on what the candidate said tonight in "The Spin Room." That's coming up in just a few minutes right here at midnight Eastern, 9:00 p.m. Pacific on CNN.

You can also log onto "The Spin Room" at or call us at 1- 800-310-4CNN. Don't forget. Join us for "The Spin Room" at midnight Eastern.

Back to you.

SHAW: We can't wait. We can't wait.

Well, as we come to the end of our coverage, our part of it, I have never liked the won-lost analogy. I just cannot embrace it. I like to step back and take your cautious words and see what happens over the coming days, and remind everybody there's still debate No. 3 next Tuesday night at Washington University in St. Louis.

WOODRUFF: In fact, I think it was probably a little signal from the Gore camp when his own campaign manager, Bill Daley, said three times in our interview with him earlier in this program that we still have another debate to go. I think instead of crowing about anything that happened tonight, he was saying, let's wait, there's another one to go.

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, this debate tonight was a strange debate, very peculiar, because the rules, I thought, were odd. They called it a discussion, but apparently they had all agreed that the two "discussens" couldn't talk to each other. I thought that was very weird and contributed to the peculiar atmosphere.

It wasn't a real discussion. A discussion means, well, discuss amongst yourselves, but they couldn't do that.

Well, I think a lot of Democrats are frustrated and they hope next week that they'll unleash Al Gore. But you know what, the format next week is a town hall with an audience of ordinary voters asking the questions. If they try to unleash Al Gore and he starts getting tough and aggressive, the voters are not going to like that.

Every time there's been a town hall and there's been any negative remark, the people in the audience respond against that, and they're going to try to keep control of it, I think.

GREENFIELD: This -- this now puts the endgame, the last 27 days of this campaign, I think, in pretty bold relief. We may all be wrong, but unless -- unless the Gore campaign can in the next couple days turn the focus on that record in Texas and on possible outright misstatements by Bush, I think it's pretty clear that they're going to have a very, very, very tough job on their hands in the next 27 days.

It's why once again I think what we should be looking for is Governor Bush's record in Texas being taken into the spotlight by the Gore campaign over and over again to suggest he doesn't deserve the presidency.

WOODRUFF: But you can also count on the Bush people, working vigorously, right this minute, to come up with a defense that we didn't hear from Governor Bush.

SHAW: One point on the rules. These are rules that Governor Bush, Vice President Gore, their lawyers, their campaigns agreed to. I agree with you: The rules handcuff them: no crosstalk, no discussion. They couldn't ask questions of each other. But those were the rules the candidates agreed to.

GREENFIELD: But what really handcuffed Al Gore tonight was his performance last week. That was, I think, the biggest handcuff, and I think the Gore campaign may think very seriously about just what do they do next week to make him feisty but not pushy. Tough role.

SCHNEIDER: Not turn off those voters in the audience.

WOODRUFF: We said that much of this debate tonight was on international affairs. Indeed, it was. And I do have a little bit of news from the White House tonight that relates to international affairs: not something that happened to come up in the debate: Madeleine Albright, the United States secretary of state, announced that she does plan to go to Pyongyang -- we don't have a date -- to meet with the leader of that country, Kim Jong Il. This would be a history-making meeting if it took place, because there are so few contacts between that isolated country and the West, and certainly with the United States.

SHAW: It still pains me, the contention that most American voters don't care about foreign policy.

SCHNEIDER: They do...

SHAW: It just pains me.

SCHNEIDER: Let's just -- but leave at this. No one really threatens us right now. So one of the reasons they don't care is they don't feel threatened, as they did for 30 or 40 years, from World War II right through the Cold War to Vietnam.

SHAW: Yes, but we've got men and women in uniform around this planet defending our nation's interests: lives and money.

WOODRUFF: Certainly right. We are going to leave at that, Bill Schneider, Jeff Greenfield. For Bernie and me, thank you very much for joining us. "The Spin Room" with Bill Press and Tucker Carlson coming up next.



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