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Inside Politics

Gore, Bush Prepare for Third Debate

Aired October 17, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Hours before their third televised debate, and more image polishing, Al Gore and George W. Bush fine tune their strategy, mindful of a tragedy in the host state of Missouri.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a tremendous loss, and our hearts grieve with the people of this state, and with his family especially.



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a sad time. I think this is going to put a sober moment on the debate tonight.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We'll have the latest on Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan's death in a plane crash, and what it means for the heated Senate race he had been a part of.

SHAW: Plus, an update on clashes in the Middle East even after a cease-fire agreement brokered by President Clinton.

ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff at CNN election headquarters and analysts Jeff Greenfield and Bill Schneider.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

Tonight marks the last, best chance for Americans to compare George W. Bush and Al Gore side by side. And yet, at the debate site in Missouri, across that state, and across the nation, many voters may be feeling distracted.

In addition to the crisis in the Middle East, the death of Missouri governor and Senate candidate Mel Carnahan has cast a pall over the third Gore-Bush face-off. Nonetheless, both presidential contenders are trying to stay focused on what they need to do tonight.

Our Jonathan Karl looks at Gore's challenge and his strategy. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ready to sharply and aggressively outline his differences with George W. Bush, Vice President Gore goes into the final debate hoping to put the economy at center stage.

Aides say that in a in a variation of Ronald Reagan's 1980 query, Gore will ask, in essence, "Are you better off today than you were eight years ago"? With an economy still booming despite recent stock market jitters, aides say the vice president will forcefully make the case that Bush would return the country to the era of deficits and recession. Gore has a proven ability to use the town hall debate format to launch devastating political attacks.

In an early primary debate with Bill Bradley last year, Gore used the town hall to launch his attack on Bradley's health care plan.


GORE: When you give two-thirds of the money to those who already have health insurance, you're going to hurt -- you're going to shred the social safety


KARL: The town hall format is the vice president's favorite. At the Bradley debate, he lingered after the debate for more than 90 minutes, taking questions from the audience long after the cameras were turned off. In his practice sessions for this debate, Gore brought in about 20 of his citizen supporters to play the role of the audience. One bit of advice offered by these unpaid advisors is to attack, but do so politely.

MATT MOSELY, GORE CITIZEN ADVISER: I've heard a lot of people say well, he's bullying or he's being condescending or something like that. But I wouldn't want to have a president that can be bullied or condescending. So I think really think he's really showing a leadership role and a role that he's standing tall in and able to, you know, come through and be the polite attacker.

JOSPEH DULIN, GORE CITIZEN ADVISER: He needs to point out that Bush does not have the experiences that's necessary to keep us going, and particularly in these good times. This is one of the greatest times in the world.


KARL: Following the debate, the vice president plans to campaign virtually nonstop until Election Day, returning home only once and then only for a few hours, long enough to watch his son Albert's homecoming football game -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jonathan, why have the Gore people decided it's the economy they want to stress tonight? KARL: Well, you know, they tried to do this earlier with this "Progress and Prosperity Tour," they called it. But more recently the vice president has talked about how this election is not a reward for past performance. But they're turning back to the prosperity. They believe this is the strongest selling point the vice president has, that things are going well. We've got eight years of prosperity, prosperity under the watch of the Clinton-Gore administration.

The risk -- tying him to president Clinton, but the vice president believes, the vice president's aides believe he has successfully come out of the shadow of the president, and now he can again go back to this theme of the economy, taking credit for unprecedented prosperity.

WOODRUFF: All Right, Jonathan Karl in St. Louis. Thanks -- Bernie.

SHAW: Now, to Governor Bush's goals for his final debate rematch with Gore, our Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley also is in St. Louis.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The evening is aimed at two sets of voters: those who haven't made up their minds and those who could change their minds. It is a group largely allergic to sniping and attack politics. As he arrived in St. Louis last night, George Bush got in the mood.

BUSH: My message tomorrow night is not going to be a partisan message. It's going to be an American message, about what the priorities we ought to have in our lives.

CROWLEY: Beyond bipartisanship, the governor will look for opportunities to hammer home an issue his strategists believe has particular resonance for fence-sitters -- the specter of a bloated federal government.

BUSH: I may have to remind America that I am running against a man who is going to grow the federal government with the biggest growth plan since, well, gosh, it's hard to tell since when. It's three times bigger than President Clinton's plans.

CROWLEY: A debate in town hall meeting style is not Bush's favorite largely because of the theatrics of walking around the stage, and the pressure to emote. But on the trail, Bush holds frequent town hall meetings where the danger zone is not so much the well-worn policy question, as the unexpected, softer one.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My business partner is a Democrat, and...

BUSH: Yes, shows how good you're reaching across the partisan divide. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My question to you is what can I tell her --she's not that keen on Gore, but she feels that she should vote for him so things don't change. She feels that the economy is some result of what's been going on the past eight years instead of us.

BUSH: No, I understand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What can I tell her tomorrow from you?

BUSH: Tell her to keep an open mind. No. Tell her governments don't create wealth, you know that.


CROWLEY: In the midst of a long, multi-answer answer, even Bush admitted he was groping. There is little room for that this evening.


CROWLEY: With just the slightest of edges in the polls, Bush's number one rule tonight must be the Hippocratic Oath, first, do no harm. Followed by the politicians' hope: try to do yourself some good -- Bernie.

SHAW: Candy, in past debates the governor has tended to speak broadly on issues, sometimes. Can we expect more details, more specificity from him tonight?

CROWLEY: I think that the governor feels and has said many times that he thinks in defining the differences between himself and the vice president, that the broad picture is definitive, and that is that he believes that Al Gore is for big government and something that will ruin the economy, whereas George Bush is for a more limited role of government, having a safety net but putting more power back to the people.

Beyond that, there is the matter of the Texas record. There was acknowledgment within the campaign staff that perhaps in the last debate when Bush was hit about the Texas record on health care, he needed to come back with some more specificity about where Texas has been and where it's going in terms of some of those issues, and you'll probably hear some of that tonight if it gets around to the Texas record which the Bush campaign fully expects it will.

SHAW: Candy Crowley in the Show-Me state. We'll get back to you later this evening, early and often.

Our Bill Schneider joins us now.

Bill, tell us more about the voters the candidates are targeting tonight.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Bernie, it's actually a fairly large group. It's about a fifth of the voters. They include a very small number who are truly undecided and a much larger number who favor a candidate right now, but say they could change their minds.

Now those are the swing voters: tonight's prize. Who are they? They're disproportionately women. They live in the suburbs. Their views tend to be moderate. Their party allegiance, independent. Moderate, independent suburban women. Sound familiar? Those are your soccer moms, your waitress moms. They're the ones keeping this election in suspense.

SHAW: Tell us: What are these voters looking for?

SCHNEIDER: Well, start with the fact that they're very satisfied with the way things are going in the country. They're not angry or alienated. They think President Clinton's doing just a fine job. Swing voters give him a 65 percent approval rating. They like Al Gore better than George W. Bush. In fact, swing voters believe Gore is more honest and trustworthy than Bush, which is just the opposite of the way other voters feel. Swing voters have a good idea of who the candidates are personally. And they like Gore better.

SHAW: Well, if they like Gore better than Bush, why hasn't Gore closed the sale?

SCHNEIDER: Because all the cliches about soccer moms are simply wrong. Their votes are not driven by personal qualities. Take a look at this. We asked, which is more important to you in deciding how to vote -- the candidates' stands on the issues, or their leadership skills and vision? Among all voters, the two rank about equal in importance.

Now take a look at swing voters. Issues are much more important to them. Soccer moms are issue voters. Who knew? In fact, they tilt toward Gore on most issues, including taxes, education, the economy, Social Security and Medicare.

SHAW: So why hasn't Gore?

SCHNEIDER: Finished it up? Well, because they're not quite sure yet that he's better on the issues. A lot of swing voters don't know which candidate they really prefer on the issues. Take taxes. Among all voters, Bush has the edge over Gore on taxes, but swing voters prefer Gore by about 45 to 30 percent, but a quarter of them say they are still not sure.

You know, the media are covering these debates like the Miss America Pageant: looks, personality, makeup, but what swing voters care about is the issues. In order to win them over tonight, Gore has to do the same thing he did in his Democratic Convention speech, push issues, issues, issues, and draw big distinctions with Bush on all of those issue, something he hasn't quite done yet in a convincing way -- Bernie.

SHAW: Sounds like potentially it's going to be a very meaty debate tonight.

SCHNEIDER: For Gore, he better make sure that happens.

SHAW: Thank you, Bill Schneider -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, well now let's hear from the candidates' political brain trusts. Bernie will talk with Bush campaign chief strategist Karl Rove in just a moment. But first we go to Gore campaign senior adviser Bob Shrum. He joins us from St. Louis.

Bob Shrum, thanks for being with us.

BOB SHRUM, SENIOR GORE ADVISER: I'm happy to be here, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We just heard Bill Schneider say what the vice president needs to do tonight is close the sale with many undecided or wavering voters who may be with him on the issues but are not yet convinced that he's where they are. Is that what he's going to do?

SHRUM: Well I think Americans are going to see someone tonight in Al Gore who is ready to lead this country, who on a critical issue, like prescription drugs, for example, is going to do exactly what Bill Schneider just talked about. He's going to lay out the fact that he has a voluntary program under Medicare that seniors are able to join if they want and that covers the cost of their prescription drugs.

Governor Bush has a program that for the first four or five years doesn't cover as many as 95 percent of all the seniors who don't have basic coverage today. They don't get basic coverage under the Bush plan.

So we'll talk about issues like that. He'll focus on prosperity, but not in a backward-look way, in a forward-looking way, which is who has a plan that is fiscally responsible, that pays down the debt, which Al Gore's plan does by the year 2012, pays it off, and who has a plan that takes us back to deficits, which is what George Bush's plan does. It takes us to $1.1 trillion deficit in the next 10 years. And by the way, those numbers aren't from me, they're from 300 economists who signed a letter this week saying that that's exactly what the Bush plan would do.

WOODRUFF: Bob Shrum, what it Governor Bush says tonight what he's been saying out on the campaign trail, namely that Vice President Gore is proposing in spending three times what President Clinton has proposed?

SHRUM: When President Clinton ran in 1992, the spending proposals were actually very small because there were the huge deficits that were being inherited from President Bush. The fact of the matter is that what Al Gore is proposing is the smallest federal government as a percentage of our national economy in 50 years.

WOODRUFF: Well what about the specific Bush charge, though, that it's three times what Bill Clinton has proposed? You're saying that's just not true?

SHRUM: As I said -- no, as I said, Bill Clinton did not propose a lot of spending in 1992. It's kind of a trick on the part of the Bush campaign. It's like the trick of saying, for example, that Texas spends $4.7 billion on health care for the uninsured, when over $3 billion of that coverage actually comes from charity, from private charities, not from the state of Texas.

WOODRUFF: There are those, Bob Shrum, who are saying what -- observers, who are not part of the campaigns -- who are saying that the vice president in some ways has played into, in any event, the image of Democrats as big-spending liberals, that he's done this -- especially he's done this during the debates?

SHRUM: I don't agree with that. First of all, this is someone who has led the fight for welfare reform in this country, someone who led the effort to reduced the size of the federal government by almost 70,000, someone who has a commitment to make the government work for people but not to make a bigger government.

It's, in fact, Governor Bush who would take us back to the kinds of deficits that we had, which made the federal government a major problem for our prosperity and our economic growth.

WOODRUFF: And finally, there are some who say he was too aggressive in the first debate, too cordial in the second debate. What about tonight? What are we going to see?

SHRUM: I think he shouldn't pay attention to any of that. I think he should go out there and debate the issue. I think if he debates the issues, people see where he stands on the issues and where George Bush stands on the issues, they're going to decide that Al Gore is the right person to lead this country in the first decade of the 21st century.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bob Shrum, thank you for joining us from St. Louis.

SHRUM: OK, glad to be here.


SHAW: Now, as promised, Bush campaign chief strategist Karl Rove joins us from St. Louis.

Karl Rove, what is the governor's strategy for appealing this night to undecided and swing voters in this debate?

KARL ROVE, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: Well, it's to do what he did in the other two debates, which is share what's on his heart and tell people what his vision is for America, lay out a positive agenda to do five big things -- reform our school, save Social Security, reform Medicare, cut taxes and rebuild America's military -- and to let people take a measure of him and his philosophy his and core convictions that don't change with each week or with each focus group or poll.

SHAW: In the interview Judy just did with Bob Shrum, he said that Governor -- rather, Vice President Gore's prescription drugs program is voluntary, and then he said that Governor Bush's program doesn't cover 95 percent of seniors during the first five years. Did you hear that? How do you respond to that? ROVE: I did, and I'm sorry, I started to laugh when he said it. because Governor Bush's plan, as Mr. Shrum well knows, covers 100 percent of seniors the day that it's passed. The governor's budget assumes that the bill is passed in the year 2001, I believe.

Vice President Gore's plan starts to phase in in the year 2002 and is not fully phased in and give full coverage until the year 2008, when Governor Bush's plan gives 100 percent coverage the very first year that it's passed.

And in the interim, in the time between now and a the time that a Medicare reform could be passed in the next year or year and a half, the governor has a program to help the 23 states that have prescription drugs plans in place because of the failure of the Clinton-Gore administration in eight years to pass a prescription drugs plan.

So Mr. Shrum was totally wrong, as he was also when Judy asked him the question about Vice President Gore's spending. Today, a new report came out from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan group, which said that Vice President Gore's spending proposals are three times the proposals that Clinton-Gore proposed in 1992 and represent the largest expansion of government in 35 years and are three times Governor Bush's spending proposals. So Mr. Shrum was ill informed on that as well.

SHAW: Is the governor prepared to take a foreign policy question, if it comes up? I assume you're aware of Thomas Friedman's piece in the op-ed page of "The New York Times" today in which he said that in the second debate Governor Bush gave the wrong answer -- the piece is titled "The Wrong Answer" -- when he said he supported the Lebanon policy, a policy that involved the killing of more than 240 Marines and the pulling out of American troops?

ROVE: Well that's why we call it the "opinion-editorial" page, the op-ed page. That is Mr. Friedman's opinion, it's not Governor Bush's opinion.

SHAW: My question is, is the governor prepared to respond should that question come up tonight?

ROVE: Sure, absolutely.

SHAW: Karl Rove, does tonight's format...

ROVE: Well, in fact, could I give you part of the answer, Bernie, which is that the Lebanon mission was a mission important to the security of our great ally in the Mideast, Israel, and he supported it as a result.

SHAW: OK, last question. Tonight's town-meeting format, is the governor as comfortable with this format as he was obviously with the roundtable?

ROVE: Well, I mean, I think he'll be comfortable, but we recognize this is Al Gore's best format. This is something he prides himself on. The Republican debates in the primary earlier this year were not town halls because there were so many Republican candidates. It was easy to have a town hall with two candidates. Al Gore prides himself on this. He's a smart man, he's an able politician, he's a fantastic debater. He's not going to have three bad debates in a row.

So we recognize that Governor Bush is going to go out and do a good job tonight, but we also recognize that this is Vice President Gore's best opportunity to shine.

SHAW: Karl Rove, good to see you again. See you later tonight.

ROVE: Thank you.

SHAW: Judy.

WOODRUFF: And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, the death of Governor Mel Carnahan: reaction from Missouri to Capitol Hill.



GORE: Mel was a fantastic individual. A great public servant with a compelling vision for the future of this state and our country. It is a tremendous loss, and our hearts grieve with the people of this state, with his family especially and, again, with the Sifford family.



BUSH: This is a man who lived his life in that spirit, you know -- public service. And he's going to be missed and it's a sad time. I think this is going to put a sober moment on the debate tonight.


SHAW: Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore reacting to the death of Missouri's Democratic governor and Senate candidate Mel Carnahan. Carnahan, his son and an aide died when their small plane crashed south of St. Louis last night on the way to a campaign rally.

CNN's Gary Tuchman has more on the accident and the aftermath in Missouri.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a violent crash in a heavily wooded part of the state he governed. Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan died instantly in a plane crash along with his son Roger, who was flying the Cessna twin-engine plane, and one of the governor's top aides, Chris Sifford.

Lieutenant Governor Roger Wilson will now serve out the late governor's term. ROGER WILSON (D), ACTING GOVERNOR, MISSOURI: I hope that everyone in Missouri will put the Carnahan family and the Sifford family in their prayers.

I am acting governor at this time. And I would like to ask for permission to lean on about 5 million Missourians' shoulders.

TUCHMAN: The recovery of the victims has been very slow because the impact was so devastating. The wreckage of the small plane is spread out.

CAROL CARMODY, NTSB SPOKESWOMAN: The pieces are small; as small as this in many case. There were some larger pieces. Some were strewn around the trees, on the ground; it's a very difficult recovery process, it's hard to find the pieces. We will do it, but it's going to take some real work.

TUCHMAN: Even before remains were recovered, the family of Chris Sifford knew he was aboard the plane.

JERRY SIFFORD, CHRIS SIFFORD'S COUSIN: They found Chris' Billfold on some of the debris they found, so they knew Chris was with him.

TUCHMAN: Outside the governor's mansion in the state capitol of Jefferson City, mourners dropped off bouquets of flowers to honored the man who led this state for nearly eight years.

JERRY NACHTIGAL, CARNAHAN PRESS SECRETARY: Governor Carnahan always believed that public service was a noble calling. His belief in the greatness of the citizens of this state, especially the children, was unwavering. He was the greatest governor this state has ever had, and we will miss him dearly.

TUCHMAN: The Democratic governor was involved in a tight race for a U.S. Senate seat against G.O.P. incumbent John Ashcroft, who suspended his campaign indefinitely.

Under Missouri law, Carnahan's name will stay on the ballot at this late date. And if he happens to get the most votes, the Democratic acting governor can pick the person of his choice to fill the seat.


TUCHMAN: CNN has learned the governor's son had notified air traffic controllers during the flight that he was having a problem with the plane's instruments. And he would have needed those instruments because the weather was poor last night, it was raining and it was foggy.

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate that important element and could have an initial conclusion as early as next month. For now, the state is in mourning, it's lost a vibrant leader.

Bernie, back to you.

SHAW: Thank you -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, the candidacy of the popular two-term governor made Missouri's Senate race one of the most competitive in the nation.

Our Chris Black takes a look at the race and the political effect of Governor Carnahan's death.


GOV. MEL CARNAHAN (D), MISSOURI: Harry Truman's seat will go back to the working people of Missouri. Thank you very much.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mel Carnahan's death has dealt a devastating blow to his home state of Missouri and deflated Democratic hopes of retaking control of the U.S. Senate.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: I believe he would have been a great United States senator, just as he was a great governor.

BLACK: John Ashcroft is one of seven senators in tough reelection fights. Defeating Ashcroft was seen as crucial to Democrats picking up the five seats needed to regain the majority.

STEPHEN WAYNE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: The likelihood is that the Democrats will pick up a few seats in the Senate, but not enough to wrest control from the Republicans.

BLACK: Carnahan's death also closed the book on one of the most contentious Senate races of the year. The candidates debated just days ago.

CARNAHAN: I think that it's a little empty in the reelection campaign to be protecting and protesting so much the protection of Social Security when he is the raider.

SEN. JOHN ASHCROFT (R), MISSOURI: The crime rate has fallen less in Missouri than it has nationally over the last several years.

BLACK: Carnahan had served as lieutenant governor during Ashcroft's second term as governor. This was a grudge match, as seen in the fierce air war.


NARRATOR: Is John Ashcroft telling the truth? "The Post- Dispatch" says no and calls Ashcroft's TV ads "misleading" and "unsubstantiated."



NARRATOR: Mel Carnahan's not telling the truth; using drug company money to attack John Ashcroft. The press calls it "unfair and misleading."


BLACK: Carnahan's challenge forced Ashcroft, a conservative Republican, to campaign on Democratic issues like Social Security, HMO reform and education.

But in a recent interview with CNN, Carnahan expressed confidence he would win on these issues.

CARNAHAN: As the race focuses more and more on issues, and I think it will between now and November 7, I think I have the strong side of that argument.

BLACK (on camera): Democrats say the Missouri Senate contest was one of their best bets for beating a Republican incumbent. Carnahan's death has left party officials discouraged and saddened by the loss of a prospective national leader.

Chris Black, CNN, Capitol Hill.


SHAW: Missouri lost a Democratic Senate nominee once before in a plane crash. It was in 1976; Congressman Jerry Litton won the Democratic Senate primary and he died in a plane crash the same night. With three months remaining before the election, Democrats selected former Governor Warren Hearnes to replace Litton on the November ballot. Hearnes went on to lose in November to Republican John Danforth.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns: Are the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians making good on their new cease-fire agreement? We'll have an update from the Middle East.


WOODRUFF: Now an update on the crisis in the Middle East.

There were reports today of continued clashes between Israelis and Palestinians hours after a cease-fire agreement between the two sides was brokered by President Clinton in Egypt. That agreement was aimed at ending 20 days of violence. It has killed more than 100 people.

CNN's Mike Hanna has more from Jerusalem.


MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is very much an atmosphere of wait and see, each leader waiting to see whether the other leader implements the understandings that were reached at Sharm el-Sheikh, on the ground.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat arrived back in Gaza City. He said that he would implement what was agreed to in Sharm el-Sheikh. He said the importance now is to see concrete results of the discussions that were held -- a similar statement to, from Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, saying the test now of the talks, of the understandings, is to see concrete results happen on the ground.

The difficulty for both leaders: to persuade their followers to implement the understandings that they have reached. And this will be a very difficult task indeed. As various areas in the West Bank today, once again: outbreaks of violence, a number of people injured, at least two Palestinians killed in the course of the day's events.

And from those in the crowds in towns like Bethlehem: deep anger at what they see as an attempt to thrust an agreement down their throats. But on the Israeli side, too, there is anger. In the suburb of Gilo on the outskirts of Jerusalem, an Israeli neighborhood had angry demonstration late into the night. This suburb came under Palestinian attack earlier on in the day.

A number of families were evacuated, though, they have now returned to their homes. But among the people in this neighborhood: little trust in Yasser Arafat's promises to implement some kind of cessation of hostility on the ground, just as there's little trust on the Palestinian side that Ehud Barak has the ability to do that either.

So looking now to see whether that feeling of trust so absent in recent weeks can be engendered, to see whether the leaders have the ability to get their followers to implement the understandings that they reached, and, as well, to see the concrete measures that are introduced by both sides, to make clear that Sharm el-Sheikh was not just about talk, that it was about defining strategies and actions to end the violence.

I'm Mike Hanna, CNN, in Jerusalem.


SHAW: Now to the investigation into the apparent terrorist attack on a United States Navy destroyer in Yemen. Yemeni authorities questioned and detained members of Muslim Islamic groups this day. And United States officials say the crackdown is developing -- quote -- "significant leads" -- unquote. And two federal law enforcement sources in Washington confirmed to CNN that bombing-making materials have been located in an apartment in Yemen.

Sources also are telling CNN that the first materials from the USS Cole arrived in Washington late Monday night for analysis at the FBI Crime Lab. Also today, the group formed by suspected terrorist, Osama bin Laden, issued a statement denying any involvement in Thursday's bombing of the USS Cole. The search for bodies continues at the port of Aden. Of the 17 U.S. sailors killed, the remains of six still are missing after another six were recovered today.

A memorial service for the Cole's victims is scheduled tomorrow at Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. And, of course, CNN is planning live coverage beginning at 11:00 a.m. There is more political news ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

WOODRUFF: Still to come: the state of the presidential race -- a look at the electoral forecast and the latest poll numbers.



BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Both parties are reaping a record-breaking harvest of huge political donations from corporations, wealthy individuals, and, to Democrats, labor unions: so-called soft money.


SHAW: Brooks Jackson on the donor behind the campaign contributions.

And later:

WOODRUFF: Which presidential hopeful has more at stake tonight? Bernie will ask Mary Matalin and Mike McCurry.


SHAW: Heading into tonight's debate in St. Louis, and 21 days before our nation's election, the presidential race appears to be in something of a holding pattern.

George W. Bush is three points ahead of Al Gore in our daily tracking poll of likely voters, just as he was yesterday. It's the fourth day the CNN/"USA Today" Gallup survey has shown Bush with a slight edge in this neck-and-neck race.

In the state-by-state battle for electoral votes, our CNN analysis shows Bush still ahead and Gore losing some ground. Our map shows the governor leading in 23 states, just as he did last week, mostly in the South and the Plains. Now, that would give him a total of 205 electoral votes. Gore is ahead in 12 states, including California and much of the Northeast, as well as the District of Columbia. That would give Gore a total of 175 electoral votes.

Since last week, we've taken Minnesota out of Gore's column. By our analysis, Minnesota now is one of 15 states with a total of 158 electoral votes that still are up for grabs. The big prizes of Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan are among the toss-ups.

WOODRUFF: And we have new polls today from four of those toss-up states, showing the race, indeed, too close to call. In Florida, Gore leads by two points in an ARG survey. A week ago, he had a slight lead in one poll, with Bush leading a slim -- holding a slim lead in a second poll.

In Pennsylvania, an ARG survey has Gore on top by one point, down from six points a week ago. ARG surveys also show Gore ahead by two points in Washington state, and by one point in Oregon. His lead in both of those Northwestern states has declined since last month.

In this tight presidential race, a number of outside groups are trying to influence the outcome, and perhaps rack up some chits with the future president in the process.

CNN's Brooks Jackson has a hard count of the groups that are giving in the big way.


JACKSON (voice-over): Smithfield Foods, the world's largest hog grower and pork processor, just lost an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld a $12. 6 million penalty against the company for polluting Virginia rivers, the largest water pollution fine ever levied by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

And just days earlier, Smithfield made a $300,000 donation to the Republican National Committee. Who gets to appoint the next administrator of the EPA, or the next Supreme Court justice? Smithfield's money is backing Republican George Bush. But Democrat Al Gore is getting plenty, too. Both parties are reaping a record- breaking harvest of huge political donations from corporations, wealthy individuals, and, to Democrats, labor unions: so-called soft money.

Big soft-money donors to the RNC include Columbus hockey team owner, John McConnell. But his $150,000 gift is peanuts these days. The RNC has received at least 140 donations of $200,000 or more since the first of last year. Last month, the founder of Amway, whose yacht pulled up at the Republican Convention, gave another half-million dollars.

That brought the total for Richard M. DeVos and wife Helen to $600,000 and put them third on the RNC's list of top soft-money donors. Phillip Morris is first at more than $800,000. The National Rifle Association has given $725,000. AT&T is fourth at just over $590,000.

For Democrats, the list is dominated by labor unions. AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, gave another $800,000 to the Democratic National Committee in the last three months. Since the first of last year, AFSCME has given $1.7 million, by far the DNC's biggest donor.

Next are the Service Employees Union at just over $1 million, the Communications Workers Union, just under $1 million, and the Painter's Union at $900,000. Trial lawyers are also high on the Democratic donor list. Baltimore lawyer Peter Angelos and Houston lawyer John E. Williams each have given $450,000. They're tied for tenth place. Farther down is San Francisco venture capitalist William Hambrecht, who gave a quarter-million dollars to the DNC in the last three months. Altogether, the DNC has received 55 donations of $200,000 or more, a list of supergivers less than half as long as the RNC's. And some supergivers go both ways. Global Crossings, which is laying fiber-optic cable on the ocean bed, gave $150,000 to the Republican National Committee last month. A month earlier, they were among the major underwriters of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: Up next, the impact of the televised debates. Mike McCurry and Mary Matalin on what's at stake tonight.


WOODRUFF: In tonight's town hall-style presidential debate, the questions will come from undecided voters selected by the Gallup organization. The candidates will get two minutes to respond to questions, and the moderator may continue the discussion if he wishes. Each candidate will get a two-minute closing statement.

SHAW: And to talk more about the debate and the presidential race, in St. Louis, former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry. And in Washington, Mary Matalin, co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE."

Starting with you, Mary, first, who has more at stake tonight and why?

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST, CNN "CROSSFIRE": Well, clearly, because the momentum has been moving in Bush's direction as is evidenced by the map you just presented, Bernie, the onus us is on Gore to do something, tonight, show something. There is an additional burden for him because he has presented so far a personal confusion which is almost a political crisis for him. People don't know who he is.

And this is important because they need to evaluate the person and he's also not make a good distinction on the issues, which Bush has so far. It's a classic debate and Bush is apparently on the right side of the divide, which is against big government, for a limited government. And Bush has made the case. Gore hasn't. This is the last chance to do it in such a universal way.

SHAW: Mike McCurry.

MIKE MCCURRY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, Bernie, I'll take a little issue with what Mary just said. On the issues, Social Security reform, education, health care, keeping the economy strong and spreading the benefits to those who aren't currently participating in prosperity, it's clear from every poll that Vice President Gore gets some little edge on those issues.

The problem he hasn't translated that to voters. Now he's got an opportunity tonight, standing in front of an audience made up of undecided voters, real people, we like to call them in the press. If he connects with them tonight, really shows that on the substance of these issues he's the better candidate, this could be a very big night for the vice president.

SHAW: And what's at stake for the governor?

MCCURRY: Well, I think, Governor Bush. you know, he's made two out of three of these debates where he's done OK. The press and the pundits have afterward given him the nod. I think that the danger for him tonight is the press corp is going to want to even up the odds finally, and maybe give Gore one of these nights of one of these debates.

And I think for that reason Governor Bush can't just sit there and coast through the evening and sort of make it through unblemished. He's really got to get out there, too, and make a strong case for change. You know, he's the one that carries the harder argument here. He has to say after eight years of a country at peace, prosperous, we need to make a major change, and that's a hard argument to make.

SHAW: How do you see it, Mary?

MATALIN: Well, Bernie, Mike just made my point by saying on all those issues that are supposedly, ostensibly Democratic issues through these many years, Gore only has a tiny, teeny weeny bleed. It's because Bush has had bold and innovative reform solutions on Medicare, Social Security, those very problems that the Clinton-Gore administration did have eight years to do something about and did nothing.

He has been clear on that. And he's even on education, a top priority. So he has made his case on the great philosophical divide and also on these individual issues that top vote voters concerns and he's been a consistent personality and in an unstable world. People want to see a stable personality at the helm.

MCCURRY: Bernie, I hope you didn't hear me sighing down here in St. Louis, but I think really, the truth of this is that there really has be an effort by both of these candidates to draw out the substance and make it real for the people who get little burst of information.

I think one of the problems in this campaign so far is that there are substantive differences between these candidates, but we've been talking about character, and personality and style rather than substance. I think tonight if there's a return to substance, I think the vice president will have a good night.

SHAW: The substance of the Middle East. much of it deadly. Do you expect that to have an impact in this debate tonight, the USS Cole, the Israelis, the Palestinians, Mary?

MATALIN: Well, in the sense that, again, it's not, it's not a matter of looking at style or personality, but it's looking at those leadership characteristics. That's what people are looking for. Bush has demonstrated them. He has demonstrated the steadiness. That's what people look for in a commander-in-chief. And because these events are happening today, it reminds voters they don't know what could happen in the future and steadiness at the helm, leadership in the personality in the commander-in-chief is important and I think Bush has shown that.

MCCURRY: Well, Bernie, I think voters also know instinctively about the Middle East, that nuance, detail, the very, very difficult process of making peace in the Middle East requires a president who is intellectually engaged with the issues and I think Governor Bush has something to demonstrate on that front. But surely, Jim Lehrer, tonight, is going to take moderator's prerogative to raise that issue if the citizens here don't because it's just too important not to.

SHAW: Mike McCurry

MATALIN: Bernie, can I get in...

SHAW: ... Mary Matalin, we're fresh out of time. Thanks for joining us. See you tonight.

And when we return, Wolf Blitzer looks ahead to a post-debate town meeting.

And Jeff Greenfield, Jeff will consider the bigger campaign picture.


SHAW: And on that subject, our Wolf Blitzer hosts the third and final CNN and "Time" town meeting, after tonight's presidential debate.

Here he is, Warren, Michigan, with a preview -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Bernie, I'm standing in front of this restored one-room school house. We're going to be inside tonight. We've invited about 20 undecided or persuadable voters here in Michigan.

This is a critical state. It doesn't get any closer than it is in Michigan right now. Three polls over the weekend showed it was extremely, extremely tight. Eighteen electoral votes are at stake here. That could be decisive. Of course, both of these candidates, Al Gore and George W. Bush are making a major effort.

Al Gore does have certain advantages, especially in the urban areas of Detroit, also among union workers. But George W. Bush is strong in this state, as well. We're going to ask these people tonight, what are the key issues they're looking for? Will they make up there mind? We'll have a chance to go back and forth and see if this debate, the third and final debate tonight, will have an impact in this state of Michigan -- Bernie.

SHAW: I'll tell you one thing, we can't wait to see you and those 20 voters in a one-room schoolhouse.

See you later on.

WOODRUFF: And joining us now from St. Louis, our colleague Jeff Greenfield. Hello there, partner.


WOODRUFF: How are you?


WOODRUFF: Beyond the polls, Jeff, what is your sense now of how this race is stacking up?

GREENFIELD: Well there are a couple of things that strike me about this race that I think to some extent may have gone overlooked. First is that while everybody talks about negative campaigning -- you know, the first hint of criticism and all of a sudden people go get faint with outrage -- this has been a very civil campaign so far. Nobody's attacking the other candidate's patriotism, nobody is calling the other candidate names, nobody is implying a kind of immortality about these candidates.

The negative stuff has really been about issues. Is Al Gore someone who wants to increase the size of government? Is George Bush a guy who's record as governor of Texas shows that he should be entrusted with the presidency? And I think that's been a key element in this campaign.

The other one has been, I think, that the campaign has largely been on issues. I mean, we have had candidates debating the future of Social Security, once considered unthinkable to talk about in a presidential campaign, the nature of health care. So it's not as if candidates haven't been talking about the issues, it's just that the issues that they're talking about don't seem to have connected with the American electorate so far.

WOODRUFF: But why is that? I mean, you know, presumably, people care about education. They care about Social Security. They certainly care about the tax bite that the government takes out of their paycheck?

GREENFIELD: I think that's going to be one of the most critically important questions about this campaign to answer. I have a very tentative answer, which may not strike you as my normal personality, but it's that these issues tend to be very complicated. They're not hot-button issues in the sense that the Vietnam War was a hot-button issue or racism was a hot-button issue or crime in the streets.

And I also think a lot of people, and I would count myself one of them, don't really think that we are wise enough to figure out the details, the complexities, of a Social Security debate.

WOODRUFF: Well, Jeff Greenfield, on that modest note, we look forward to having you with us before long.

Eight o'clock Eastern time we'll begin our programming for the debate that starts at 9:00. And that is all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. But, of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's

And we will see you again tomorrow, when George W. Bush will be on the campaign trail in Wisconsin. Al Gore will be campaigning in Iowa and Michigan.

SHAW: And these programming reminders: Judy, Bill Schneider and I will be here tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for the start of our debate coverage. CNN will carry the debate live from St. Louis, Missouri starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Bernard Shaw.

WOODRUFF: And I'm Judy Woodruff.

"WORLDVIEW" is next.



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