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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Town Hall Meeting: The Undecided Vote

Aired August 18, 2004 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, HOST: For more than a century this beautiful structure has graced the heart of Canton, Ohio. And tonight, we come here to bring you a very special broadcast.
I'm Paula Zahn. I join you tonight from the Stark County Courthouse where some 200 voters are gathered, many of them undecided. And we will give them a chance to question both the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

Why Canton, Ohio you ask? Well, for a very good reason. With the nation split between President Bush and Senator John Kerry, it is these undecided voters who could determine who our next president will be.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): If you want to be president, this is the place to be. Since 1892, Ohio has picked every president, but two. Ohio native son William McKinley campaigned from his front porch in downtown Canton. And where else did he campaign? Nowhere and he won. Taking a page from the McKinley playbook, President Bush and Senator Kerry.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The true heart and soul of America is found right here in Canton, Ohio.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The steel worker I met in Canton, Ohio saw his job sent overseas.

ZAHN: Ohio has seen a lot of these candidates over the past six months: 11 times for the senator, 6 for the president. And each time they come, they talk about the issues.

About the war in Iraq.

BUSH: Before September 11, the ruler of Iraq was a sworn enemy of America.

ZAHN: The war on terror.

KERRY: You got to have the best intelligence in the world and you've got to have the best cooperative law enforcement in the world.

ZAHN: The economy and jobs.

BUSH: After four more years, the American economy will continue to be the strongest in the world. ZAHN: Education and healthcare.

KERRY: We're also going to lower the cost of healthcare.

ZAHN: Tonight, with 76 days until the election, the next chapter in the battle for Ohio and the nation.

ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW: A Town Hall Meeting, The Undecided Vote.

Live from Canton, Ohio, here is Paula Zahn!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Thank you. Delighted you are all with us tonight. Delighted you are all joining us tonight. Thank you very much. Welcome to Canton, Ohio.

We would like to extend a special welcome to our international viewers who will also be joining us tonight.

Of the 240 Ohio voters who have showed up this evening, 75 of them say they are for President George W. Bush. 75 of them say they are for Senator John Kerry, but 80 at this point in the election cycle are still undecided. They may be Democrats or they may be Republicans or independents, but at this point in time, they have not committed to either candidate.

With this in mind, we commissioned the CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll to take the temperature of the entire state. The poll found Kerry leading Bush 52 percent to 42 percent among registered voters in Ohio.

Now, when Gallup attempted to calculate which voters will actually cast ballots, the results narrow, Kerry 48 percent and Bush 46 percent. A two-point lead for John Kerry among likely voters.

In politics, that is what is called a statistical tie and that's why the undecided voters in this room tonight, and across the state, and across the nation are so important to both campaigns.

So let's -- I'd like...

(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: All right. Welcome back.

Television again. I've been doing this...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back for the third time! We are hoping the television gods will be with us here. There has been a violent thunderstorm here, which has knocked us off the air. We have no idea if you've heard anything we've said over the last 10 minutes, so I am going to take the opportunity to introduce you now to two of our guests who be will answering questions from our audience members.

We have 75 Democrats in the audience, 75 Republicans, and 80 of you who describe yourself as undecided. Let's begin tonight with Bush Campaign Adviser Tucker Eskew, who has some 20 years of experience in communications, media relations, and -- going all the way back to Ronald Reagan's 1984 reelection campaign. Under President Bush, he served as director of the White House Office of Global Communication.

And Tad Devine, he is a long-time Democratic strategist who has produced TV ads for numerous Senate, gubernatorial, and Congressional candidates. He worked on four presidential campaigns, including Al Gore's in 2000. He is a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign.

In a moment, if we are lucky, we're going to get to some audience questions. But first of all, what is at stake here in Ohio for the Bush campaign? Is it a make-it-or-break state? There are a lot of people who say that no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning here in Ohio.

TUCKER ESKEW, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, first, Paula, let me say there was a lot of electricity in the air until Tad and I came in.

ZAHN: It's your fault! All right. Someone's got to take a hit tonight. I'll blame it out you.

ESKEW: The stakes are very high. This is a critically important state. The president returns here often, has many friends from Ohio and people involved in his administration from this state. So -- and has worked very hard on the issues here.

So, I think if you look at the economic agenda of this president and his fight to make America prouder, safer, and stronger, Ohio is at the heart of that. It's heart of our country, and I think it's a great place to have this sort of discussion.

ZAHN: But both of you have to be looking at these numbers, which basically show your two candidates in a statistical dead heat and say we got to go and get some of these undecided voters out there.

TAD DEVINE, KERRY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Yes, I think, you know, we're in the epicenter of American politics tonight. I think if any one of our candidates wins most of the people in this room, he's going to be the next president of the United States. I mean, I think it's fair to say that this is a very representative sample of this place and this nation.

So, we're going to work real hard. We're running out of days, but we're anxious to talk to voters. We've been doing it for months now. This is the most engaged election at the earliest point in time I think in our country's history. And I think there's good reason for it: the issues are big. They're enormous.

ZAHN: All right. We're going to give the opportunity now to meet some of those engaged voters, people who are really on top of the issues here and care deeply about the outcome of this election.

Sir, please introduce yourself and...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). I'm going to Stark State College on a training program. I'm one of the 12,00 that you talked about losing their jobs here in Stark County.

My question is about training of people that might lose their jobs. Is there anything else going to be done for any of the new people, or will this be carried on? That's my question.

ESKEW: I'd like to take that one, if I may? I appreciate the question. President Bush has addressed this issue -- in fact, right here in Canton recently and across Ohio and across the nation. He has proposed a billion dollar new program for high-tech vocational training, particularly for adult education, for those going through transition.

ZAHN: Transitions? These people are jobless. They've been fired or they've been let go.

ESKEW: Indeed. And the transition is to another job. And the president's goal and the goal of our economy is to make sure it's an even better job or that you can work toward that better job.

We've had a lot of shocks on this economy. There's no question about it. The president inherited a recession, there was 9/11, the buildup to war, those corporate scandals that took place in the '90s, by and large, and we've uncovered and done some things about. So, no question the economy has been rocked. And there have been shocks here in Canton, as well. And the president's responded to that.

I think that billion dollar training program is one example of how education, focus on healthcare that really returns ownership and responsibility to real people, is addressing the kind of concerns you have.

ZAHN: Does John Kerry think that's a good idea, or does he have something that would be more effective in getting some of these 12,000 workers in the Canton area back to work? Some of these people have been looking for a job over a year now.

DEVINE: Yes. I think John Kerry and John Edwards have something enormously more effective. They have a real plan to help someone like you with specifics. Job training is part of it.

And another part of it is healthcare. For someone who's in between jobs, John Kerry and John Edwards have a plan for targeted tax cuts and proposals to help you afford healthcare: A 75 percent tax credit to help someone in exactly the situation you're in so you can afford healthcare.

So many people have lost healthcare in this country -- four million Americans have lost their healthcare since George Bush was elected president. John Kerry and John Edwards have an ambitious healthcare strategy -- job training, healthcare, but most importantly, a strategy to create millions of new jobs in this country to help someone just like you.

ZAHN: All right, so let me get you straight: You don't have a problem with the job training component of the Bush plan? You just think you have to go further?

DEVINE: It is theoretical, OK? The fact of the Bush presidency is that he will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over net job loss. It's great to talk about job training, but the fact is that George Bush has done almost nothing about advancing job training since the day he's become president.

ZAHN: You can quickly rebut that, and then we'll move on to the next question.

ESKEW: Well, there's really a lot more to say about that, but the economy is growing. We've added a million five jobs over the last year. The unemployment rate has declined in Ohio. It's still too high. It's a little bit higher than the national average. The president passed three tax cut packages that provided incentives for job makers that lowered taxes across the board -- 4.4 million Ohio taxpayers had income tax cuts because of that.

And the worst thing we could do is the kind of big government healthcare plan that John Kerry proposes and maybe just as bad, if not worse, are the kind of tax increases that John Kerry has made a 20- year career...

ZAHN: All right, I want to stay on these very narrow issues of these questions. Thank you, sir, for your question.

Let's move on to our next one now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. My name is Dr. Warren P. Chavers, senior pastor of Deliverance Christian Church and community servant.

My question is: How do I keep from hearing that giant sucking sound of our economy and our jobs leaving America and leaving our communities? I'm very concerned because I deal with people all of the time, and I'm seeing the pain, seeing the struggling.

What can either candidate do or say to assure us that they're going to make an effective change? Not just pick on each other, but give us some concrete...

ZAHN: Ross Perot still having an impact of the dialogue!

DEVINE: Well, the biggest thing you and others can do is change presidents, OK? Because until we change presidents -- until we change presidents, we will not change direction in this country. We must go in a new direction. The policies that the president has pursued have not created jobs.

Tucker alluded to the president's tax cut. When the president asked this country and the Congress to pass his tax cut, he promised it would create six million new jobs. Six million jobs! Today, we're a million jobs behind where we were on the day he became president. We're seven million jobs behind that. Those promises have not been fulfilled.

John Kerry and John Edwards have a real economic plan. It involves investing in people, investing in healthcare. It is fundamentally different in strategy from the approach President Bush has pursued. It is much more like the approach that President Clinton pursued. We created 23 million jobs during the Clinton presidency in this country. We need to return to that strategy or else we're not going to create jobs.

ZAHN: Can I just stop you for one second. Were you talking about the investment in healthcare?

DEVINE: Yes.

ZAHN: It was Tucker who just argued that you're going to have to increase taxes...

DEVINE: Yes.

ZAHN: ... to cover the cost of Mr. Kerry's...

DEVINE: Let me address that directly. We are going to have to increase taxes to pay for healthcare. And if anybody in this room makes more than $200,000 a year, your the taxes that we're going to increase, OK? And if you make less than $200,000 a year, your taxes will not be increased.

In fact, if you're part of the middle class and John Kerry and John Edwards are the president, your taxes will be cut significantly, because their whole plan is to strengthen the middle class and to stop the squeeze that middle class families are feeling today. That's what it's all about.

ESKEW: Grab your wallets, folks. Grab your wall wallets. Paula, Tad, the Kerry campaign has already admitted it's not $200,000, it's $147,000 dollars that will be the bottom barrier. And what most people don't understand up in Washington is that it's small businesses that pay personal income taxes. 48 percent of the jobs in Ohio are provided by small businesses. They pay personal income taxes. They're owned by small businesses. And John Kerry wants to sock it to them. He absolutely will sock it to them.

Your question, I'd like to answer because your point about outsourcing -- first of all, Ohio is insourcing. There are 242,000 jobs in Ohio that owe themselves directly to foreign companies, bringing investment here. And outsourcing, the Kerry campaign admits their own plan wouldn't do a thing to slow down outsource.

What we got to do is open markets abroad. We've got to improve the litigation climate with liability reform, have an energy plan that's reliable and secure and healthcare and the education. The president has a comprehensive plan and it will save jobs here, build new jobs for the future, train people for those transitions and create opportunities.

ZAHN: Can I just ask a yes or no question? He said we admitted two things. I admit neither one of them. They're both false.

ZAHN: We're going to give you a chance on the other side of the break to answer that. Can I ask both of you to answer this question honestly, yes or no? There are a number of really smart economists out there who say presidents do not create jobs. So when you're talking about the number of jobs that John Kerry is going to create, is that truthful? Just a quick answer and I'll give you a chance.

DEVINE: The American economy creates jobs, but the leadership of a president has an enormous impact on the creation of jobs in the American economy.

ZAHN: All right. Your answer to that, Tucker?

ESKEW: Yes, indeed, which I would agree with. The private sector is the source that needs to create the jobs in this country. And the growth we've had over the last 20 months, rather among the fastest growth in 20 years. So those are policies that help create that and they do have an impact. But the job creation it's real people out here in Canton and across America who are creating the new jobs.

ZAHN: All right. We have to take a short break and hopefully that thunderstorm has rolled through here, and we'll be here on the air until 9:00.

After a quick break, 2 of the most divisive issues in Ohio and across the country Iraq, that is, and the war on terrorism. When our town meeting continues from Canton, Ohio. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to Canton, Ohio and the Stark County Courthouse. Tonight, we feature undecided voters.

This November, Americans will pass judgment on who best will deal with the war on terror and the war in Iraq: President George Bush or Senator John Kerry. So we asked registered Ohio voters how they felt things are going in Iraq. 45 percent said that things are going well, but 54 percent said that things are going badly for the U.S. in Iraq.

Before we get to some questions, Tom Foreman now puts human faces on the numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a small house near Canton, Kim Sarver is defending the homefront, tending six children while her husband, Gary, serves a year and a half with the National Guard in Iraq.

(on camera): You are very proud of your husband right now. Is this an important thing to you? KIM SARVER, NATIONAL GUARDSMAN'S WIFE: I think it's awesome. I think it's awesome to fight for your country. I mean, what better thing in life to say that you fought for the freedom of everybody around you.

FOREMAN: Almost 6,000 Ohioans are in Iraq. And here where veterans are honored on main street when reservists and guardsmen are called up, the distant war feels a lot closer for those left behind.

COL. TIM THOMPSON, COMMANDER 910TH AIRLIFT WING: Reservists are part of the community. They're talking about their neighbors. They're talking about their friends and relatives.

FOREMAN: So even in solidly Democratic youngstown, criticizing the war is chancy.

PROF. PAUL SRACIC, YOUNGSTOWN STATE UNIVERSITY: These people are not pacivists. They -- their grandfathers, their fathers, not only fought in World War II, but they know them and they've heard the stories.

FOREMAN: At the state fair, threats of terrorism seem of little concern, but everyone has an opinion.

RICH BOYNE, OHIO RESIDENT: Whether we'll be able to win the war on terror or whether we'll live with it, I'm not sure yet.

FOREMAN: Rebecca Jones' brother just left for Iraq. And she's scared.

REBECCA JONES, OHIO RESIDENT: We're losing too many. To me, they found what they wanted. They're rebuilding it. They need to bring America back home.

FOREMAN: Exactly when, where and how that will happen are the questions many voters here want someone to answer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And, once again, we are joined by Tad Divine, senior adviser to the Kerry campaign and by Tucker Eskew to my left, adviser to the Bush campaign.

Let's get straight to it. We have another question from one of our audience members. Good evening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. My name is Karla Durham, I'm a teacher at Plain Local Schools here in Stark County and I'm real curious about how the two men are going to end the war in Iraq, when it will end, and what plans there are to end it?

ZAHN: Very good question. You took the last question first so we'll let Tucker go.

ESKEW: I'll tell you right now, the president's gravest responsibility, any president, is the security of this country. And after September 11, 2001, everything changed. This president realized that grave threats were gathering around the world. And when faced with the evidence of Saddam Hussein's anger against America, willingness to use weapons of...

ZAHN: I hate to cut you off, but can you directly answer her question about how long U.S. forces...

ESKEW: Paula, I was answering it. And I tell you...

ZAHN: I have to be like a school teacher. We want to get to as many questions as we can.

ESKEW: I do want to make the case though. the president takes seriously what want to do, which is of course, to bring troops home. But to set a date certain for that as he has said about John Kerry who did indicate that he wanted to start withdrawing troops is to give heart and hope to our enemies. So the president will not set a date certain. The president is beginning a process to turning over authority of Iraqis, their government, and turning over security responsibility to their own troops. Now, that is a critically important transition. It is under way. We're seeing them take on more and more responsibility. And as that grows and we head toward December elections, ladies and gentlemen, in Iraq, there will be elections this year. There will be elections this year in Afghanistan. Fifty million people have been freed as a result of this, sacrifices have been made and felt so deeply in our hearts all to secure our country.

ZAHN: Let me ask you this, though. Before I give Pat a crack at that, I want to share with you something Tommy Franks said to me in an interview earlier this week, who of course, was one of the -- General Tommy Franks, who was one of the chief architects of the military plan in Iraq.

ESKEW: Good man.

ZAHN: Basically, he -- it is his contention, and he used this word, he characterized Iraq today as chaotic. Is this what the president expected this many months after the major part of the military campaign has been launched?

ESKEW: I think this president went into this with eyes open and tried to bring the country along knowing that war is hell, that war is unpredictable. That some of the worst things that we thought might happen, like refugee crisis, starvation, healthcare, water, those things didn't happen. Other things did that were not fully predicted. That is a result of war. You act to protect your country then you know there are sacrifices.

ZAHN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and we'll give you a crack at that question.

DEVINE: I'd like to try to answer the question of how John Kerry is going to end the war in Iraq.

ZAHN: But he basically said John Kerry is maybe aiding and abiding -- giving comfort to the enemy by providing a date certain withdrawal.

DEVINE: Listen, I didn't...

ESKEW: He demoralizes our troops.

DEVINE: Listen, John Kerry wants to return our troops from Iraq as quickly as humanly possible. And I think his motivation for it is clear. He served on the frontline of war, OK. And understands, I think, only those who have done this, what it means to serve that way. Now, John Kerry, unlike the president has a specific plan to end the war in Iraq.

And let me talk to you about it, OK?

It begins with involving our allies and not turning our back on allies. And that is a fundamental difference in this race and it was reflected today, by the way, in what president -- in what John Kerry said about the president's remarks about unilateral withdrawal with our troops in Europe. John Kerry, if he is president of the United States, will immediately exercise presidential leadership. He will travel to our allies, he meet with them. Second, he will immediately allow other countries to participate in the rebuilding of Iraq, including the rebuilding of the oil industry of Iraq. He will not keep other countries out and save it for companies like Halliburton which is now benefiting from all of the contracts. Third, he will seek for the U.N. to name a international high commissioner, so that the United States ambassador is no longer functionally running the country of Iraq. These are real differences and that will produce real results.

ZAHN: Will those produce real results?

ESKEW: No. Listen, we got 30 nations in Iraq today as part of the coalition that they continue to insult.

ZAHN: Wait a minute. Even General Tommy Franks said in my interview this week those were not the numbers he hoped would materialize.

ESKEW: We hope to have more, but I'll tell you want, we won't sacrifice a decision about America's security at the U.N. to one or two nations. No president, this president I can assure you, will not do that. And if that means -- if that means not sounding quite as warm and fuzzy toward governments that oppose some of our national security interests, so be it.

DEVINE: Yes.

ESKEW: But let me tell you something. The president does have a plan. It's not just democratic elections. It's not just restoring security. It is to have a coalition on the ground and involved. It is to transition away and you've just -- Tad, you've made some insulting comments about Mr. Allawi, who is a strong man, who is help to go lead this nation right now as the nation of Iraq. And I think John Kerry does not have a plan that responds to the realty on the ground, which is we gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and made America safer.

DEVINE: Is this the reality on the ground. Today, American troops and American taxpayers are bearing the burden in Iraq almost alone. $200 billion in your taxes are paying for Iraq and almost a thousand of our fellow citizens have died because this president rushed to war without a plan for peace and that's a fact.

ZAHN: We could talk about this all night long. We have a young man waiting anxiously to pose yet another question. Fire away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Ryan Willard. I am a student at Kent State University. I have a question about the draft.

Are either of you going to reinstate it?

ESKEW: No. I don't believe Senator Kerry would. President Bush is in favor of our volunteer army and really proud of the men and women who do step up and volunteer. And we're seeing some very good enlistment numbers right now. And you know, there are a lot of people who don't get as angry about the use of force and protection of America who are really proud of what those volunteers have done.

ZAHN: Yet, but don't you both have to concede that our forces are seriously strained, at this juncture?

DEVINE: I would argue that the president has reinstituted the draft. It's a back door draft, ready reserve, our national guard, are serving over there now because this president has overextended American forces in Iraq and around the world.

ESKEW: Not true. In fact, this president has called for pulling back troops from Europe and Asia. It's something that John Kerry even contemplated about two weeks ago on another network, Paula.

ZAHN: Well, thank you for that.

ESKEW: On ABC and said he thought he was in favor of that and now that the president has come out by the way after three years of consulting with allies and with members of Congress with this real transformation that recognizes the changes after the Cold War, these things really matter to young people. You ought to be thinking about sort of America's role in the world, our military, how it should be transformed to meet these challenges, these asymmetrical threats meaning terrorists who can just slip into our borders and bomb us. It's really not about protecting against a Soviet Union that doesn't exist anymore. It's about being flexible. The president has a plan to do that.

ZAHN: If you -- just very quickly. If you believe a back door draft is already in effect, what would John Kerry do to reduce some of the strain on our troops...

DEVINE: Forty thousand additional U.S. Forces when he becomes president -- to relieve burden on our troops today.

ZAHN: All right, on to one more question. This one is in an e- mail. We've gotten several thousand responses from those of you who have logged on tonight on the subject of Iraq.

James of Columbus, Ohio writes, "President Bush ran as a "unifier" and after September 11th 2001, here we sit three years later, the country is as divided as it has been since the Civil War and America has never had a lower standing in the eyes of the world. Where has this administration gone wrong and," hang on, and "how can you repair your reputation with the American people and the rest of the world?"

That means you get to answer that.

ESKEW: Yes, I'll take that one. I'll take that. I worked on these issues at the White House. America's message around the world. We do have a strong message. We have an education system and technology and so many great things about this country that people all over the world, don't listen to all of the pundits, love and admire and they're still flocking to try to get into this country to take part in that freedom. And you see that every July 4th when new immigrants get sworn in. I take the man's point, it has been a decidedly difficult time in America's history. You know, there are times when presidents are just faced with sort of quiet times and our leaders aren't expected to do much. This is not one of those times. Has it been hard to unify and change the tone in Washington? George w. Bush came to Washington with a real high-minded plan to do that and it has been a lot harder than he ever intended. He had the kind of spirit of the cooperation as a governor, that he's not been able to get up in Washington.

ZAHN: All right, let me just see a show of hands of our audience. Those of you who think we are more united with President Bush as president. Show of hands. All right, I can't count that fast. Fair number of hands. And those who think the country is more seriously divided. All right, that give you both an opportunity to figure out how much work you have to do with voters here. We have one more question from this gentleman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, my name is George Wilson (ph). Make your case to the men and women of the armed forces and intelligence agency why your candidate has the qualifications and experience to be their commander in chief? And does your candidate feel -- how does he feel whether he has their support now or not?

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Let Tad, you take this. And you take the last one.

DEVINE: I think the case for John Kerry is as follows. First, I think he understands them very well because he served with them. He pointed that out today when he spoke to the Veterans of Foreign War, an association which he's a member of. Second, he has a career of standing up and fights for veterans'. He led the fight in the Senate to help the victims in agent orange. He led the fight along with John McCain to find the truth about POWs and MIAs in Vietnam. He has constantly led the fight through the course of his Senate career, for funded for veterans health benefits. Today, at the Veterans of Foreign War, he laid down an agenda for veterans, including a military family's bill of rights to make sure that our military families are treated with the respect that they deserve because the servicemen who are protecting our nation today. John Kerry, has fought for the veterans everyday of his career, and he will fight for them everyday as president.

ZAHN: Lets hear your best case scenario why President Bush should stay in power.

ESKEW: There is a great case for him as a man who supports men and women in uniform. It ranges from pay increases to moral support, to strong leadership and resolve. And I think that's one thing people in the military respect above all else, which is a leader they can trust even when they don't always agree.

Pay increases have been around 21 percent under President Bush for our men and women -- the basic pay packages. Veterans themselves have seen a 40 percent increase -- 40 percent increase in funding at the Veterans Administration, including a huge decline in the backlog of people waiting for healthcare and waiting for the kind of disability assistance.

And this president, sir, even signed a ban on a century-long practice in this country of forbidding severely disabled veterans from also drawing their standard military retirement. So, they're now able to get both of those things.

Now, let me tell you something...

ZAHN: Is that something that John Kerry supports?

DEVINE: Well, you know, in fact, you cannot receive a pension and a disability benefit simultaneously right now. John Kerry supports fixing that system.

ESKEW: The president signed it twice, Tad.

DEVINE: And in fact, as the law today, you cannot get both. And you ask any veteran about that, we'll find out...

ZAHN: Well, wait, I'm confused. Did the president sign it or not?

DEVINE: ... whether you can get a pension and a disability payment at the same time. What happens is the government deducts one from the other, OK? That what goes on. And if there's military people here, you can get up and testify.

ESKEW: Tad's one of those Washington lawyers. I've got to tell you something...

ZAHN: But which is it? The president you said signed it?

ESKEW: There is concurrent receipt, OK? That concurrent receipt means you get both. DEVINE: There is not. There is none. No, it's false. Well, listen, we'll check the facts after the show, all right?

ESKEW: When Tad talked about Senator Kerry, he said as much about John Kerry's record as I've heard anyone from that campaign say in three or four months.

You know, in his speech at the convention, John Kerry uttered about 73 words about his own record. I salute the things he did to help veterans in the Senate, but I got to tell you, his record is paltry -- it is paltry as a leader.

So, if -- let's talk about the president's record.

ZAHN: OK, hang on.

ESKEW: I'm proud to do it. But let's hear some more -- let's hear some more about John Kerry.

DEVINE: Four years ago when George Bush gave his acceptance speech as president, he spent two sentences talking about the previous 20 years of his life, OK? And now these guys are criticizing Kerry because he didn't enough at his acceptance speech.

His acceptance speech was about his vision of the future of this nation, to make America stronger at home and respected in the world. And that's what he talked about.

ZAHN: Isn't there a collective -- to be perfectly honest, in all these campaigns, there's a collective sense of amnesia, is there -- you would acknowledge that?

DEVINE: Well, no. Listen, I would acknowledge we can say what we want in our acceptance speech and that the president spent two sentences on 20 years of his life four years before.

ESKEW: We...

ZAHN: All right, one more question here. Sir?

ESKEW: Once is enough.

ZAHN: Carry on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name's Paul Gerra (ph), and I am a veteran.

ESKEW: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Former captain and commander of a special forces detachment significantly longer than four-and-a-half months. I'd like to ask the question -- there is a definite compromise that -- as American citizens were required between our privacy and our security and our need for security, and it's kind of contrary to the American way of life in a lot of ways.

How do your candidates plan to address that issue?

ESKEW: Will you take that?

ZAHN: All right, you take that first?

ESKEW: Well, you may be talking about -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- the effects of the PATRIOT Act, which the president and the Congress passed after 9/11, which basically gives law enforcement the same tools against terrorists that they use against organized crime.

And it has been decried, distorted, and really beaten up when, in fact, law enforcement and prosecutors, at the federal and state level, are using this to dramatically bust up cells of terrorists within our own country without the kind...

ZAHN: So, people who are fearful...

ESKEW: ...without the violation of people's civil liberties.

ZAHN: So, people who are fearful of Big Brother watching you think -- have an exaggerated sense of...

ESKEW: Well, I think everybody in America ought to always be mindful of that. That is a -- that's a precious American way of life, which is to protect our privacy and our civil liberties.

So, no, I take that seriously. But I defy people to come up with a solid example of how the PATRIOT Act or anything this president has done has denigrated personal liberties.

ZAHN: You want to take a whack at that?

DEVINE: You know, listen, most of the provisions of the PATRIOT Act, I'd say about 95 percent of them, John Kerry, you know, today would support. In fact, he authored some of the provisions in the PATRIOT Act.

What he does not support is the way John Ashcroft has chosen to enforce it, OK? You know, what he does not support is the way that this government has consistently overreached in its attempt to use the laws of this nation to allegedly fight the war on terror.

Listen, people like Larry Craig, one of the most conservative Senators of the United States Senate opposes many of the provisions on privacy interests. Why are conservative Republicans opposing them? Because the government has gone too far.

And if I could just say something, because when you said you served for more than four-and-a-half months, I take it that you were alluding to Senator Kerry's service in Vietnam. John Kerry served two tours of duty in Vietnam, OK: one on a missile frigate, and then secondly, one on a swift boat.

He volunteered to serve there the first time after he got out of Yale. He volunteered to serve there on his first tour of duty. He volunteered to serve on one of the most dangerous assignments in Vietnam, on a swift boat. He was there four-and-a-half months. He won a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. And I think that means that he served this nation well and ably.

ESKEW: President Bush would agree.

ZAHN: All right, so the Bush camp is not buying into those ads, then, that have been dumping over John Kerry for forgetting the geography of where he served. He's sick of those ads. He doesn't agree with those?

ESKEW: ...and has said that Senator Kerry served honorably. I, again, I'd like to -- first of all, Tad, never mentioned the specific example of how the PATRIOT Act had hurt any civil liberties.

DEVINE: How about librarians having to tell you what -- you know, what book you can take out of the library?

ZAHN: All right -- all right, we're going to take a short break there, and we salute your service, sir. Thank you for that fine question.

When we come back, questions and answers about healthcare, education, (INAUDIBLE).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back to our town hall meeting. We join you, again, from Canton, Ohio -- a county and state with a long history of picking the winners in U.S. presidential campaigns.

You've only gotten it wrong twice. I guess you have this streak going back to 1892. It's a pretty impressive streak here for all of you folks in the Buckeye State.

And we continue to put questions to a pair of very special guests this evening. We've got political communications specialist and Bush campaign advisor Tucker Eskew, a veteran of Republican campaigns going back to Ronald Reagan's 1984 reelection; and political strategist Tad Devine. He worked on Al Gore's campaign for president four years ago and is a senior advisor to the Kerry campaign.

Time for another question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much for having this event.

ZAHN: Our pleasure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My family -- my husband is self-employed -- and we fit the profile of a family whose health insurance premiums would exceed an average monthly mortgage for a family of five.

We have recently discovered a program that was passed by Congress last year, signed by the president for health savings accounts, bringing that mortgage -- or that insurance premium down to $250 a month.

ESKEW: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are your candidates going to do to strengthen programs that would empower families and reduce the federal entitlement programs? And why did John Kerry vote no?

ZAHN: Why did John Kerry vote no?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry, it was John Edwards who voted no, not...

DEVINE: Yes, well, let me tell you why he opposes the president's healthcare program and why he has, I think, the most ambitious healthcare program that this country has seen that will work and expand health coverage and control costs.

You know, the president's healthcare program has not helped people. If you just look at the numbers, OK? Four million Americans have lost their health insurance since he became president. The cost of healthcare has increased almost 50 percent since George Bush has become president, and the president really hasn't done anything about it.

Yes, he's talked about it. But until you have a real plan that cut costs, you're not going to do anything about it. John Kerry and John Edwards have something. It's this. It's a real plan, OK. It really exists and you can read it. Go to johnkerry.com and you can read the whole thing.

ZAHN: Have you heard about that plan?

ESKEW: I don't know where to start!

DEVINE: This is what it does. This is what it does, quickly. This is this what, first, it cuts the cost of the of healthcare for middle class families by a thousand dollars a year on average. Second it will expand access to 27 million Americans who don't have access today, including every single child in this country who will have healthcare. Every child in America will have healthcare if John Kerry and John Edwards are president. It helps small businesses by cutting their costs enormously for healthcare and that means, we can create jobs here because small businesses are here and they'll create jobs here and not outsource them as they have done while George Bush is president.

ZAHN: All right, is your objection to the plan simply because you think taxes are going to have to be raised to pay for it or do you have a problem with this plan?

You don't want to hold this, do you?

ESKEW: Oh, come on!

ZAHN: He won't read it. He won't hold it.

ESKEW: It's been read. It's been read. It's pretty light reading, I've got to tell you. ZAHN: A hundred 84 pages, give me a break!

ESKEW: Paula, Tad, a trillion dollar plan. And let me say, Tad, you just told this woman that this innovation of the presidents and the Congress was not helping her, and she said it's helping her. And it's helping thousands of Americans, for the first time able to lower their deductibles -- raise their deductibles and lower their premiums. The president wants to add association health plans so small businesses can associate and expand the coverage they offer to people. This president also wants to have medical liability reform. We're in a crisis. And here in Ohio, it's a real crisis. Ohio, Paula, is 1 of 12 states in the nation that's been put on red alert because OBGYN practitioners are leaving the practitioner, they're leaving their offices, they're leaving the state. There is one in this state, that said it took him 11 months of his salary just to pay his premium for medical liability, and that drives up your healthcare costs and everybody in this room. And John Kerry and his running mate fight it at every single turn. Not only that, their plan is not just a trillion dollars, it's a big government plan. And didn't get to the root problems like raising deductibles and lowering premiums.

ZAHN: All right, well, Tucker would have you believing that what John Kerry wants is for OBGYNs to work for 11 months to have to pay off...

ESKEW: No, I didn't say that. But that would be the effect.

ZAHN: All right, so I don't have that part of it wrong. What would he do to counteract that problem.

DEVINE: First, that's ridiculous, I mean, you know? Let's state the facts. You know, John Kerry and John Edwards have outlined an ambitious plan for healthcare in this country. It has a lot of components. And listen, it will cost a lot of money, ladies and gentlemen. It's going to cost a lot of money and if you make more than $200,000 a year, your taxes will be returned to where they were when Bill Clinton was president and that's how it's going to be paid for.

ZAHN: He says it's indexed closer to 140.

ESKEW: It is, 147,000. Your campaign has admitted that.

ZAHN: Well, lets not argue about that. We want to try to get in one more question here before we go off the air. Sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Chad Robinson. I'm a steel worker at the temping (ph) company. My question is Ohio is losing a bunch of doctors, OK, because of frivolous lawsuits and litigations.

What would your two campaigns do to alleviate that?

ESKEW: A real plan as opposed to a sham plan by two people who are really closely allied with the plaintiffs attorneys, who really do favor higher awards and kind of litigation lottery, that's driven up premium costs all over this country. This state is not only one of 12 on red alert for OBGYN, it's one of 19 nationally overall. And in fact, increases in critically important specialties are going through the roof. I mean, I read a figure that the annual premiums are about a hundred thousand dollars for a lot of these specialty practices, breast cancer. I mean, that is enough to make an anesthesiologist go numb and leave the state.

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW: Serious issue and the president has got a plan.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And I got one more question by e-mail.

DEVINE: The Kerry/Edwards healthcare plan addresses the issue of medical malpractice, and the skyrocketing is costs of medical malpractice. Let me tell you what they'll do, they'll end punitive damages except in cases of wanton recklessness. They will implement a three strikes and you're out rule for lawyers who bring frivolous lawsuits. And they'll do something the president will never do, they will end the practice which now allows insurance companies to collude in setting malpractice rates. OK, they will take on everybody that needs to be taken on to cut the cost of healthcare and health insurance.

ZAHN: All right. On to one last question. This one by way of e-mail, and the subject of negative campaigning.

Do you think this has been a pretty negative campaign season, folks? Campaign ads, all right. Why do candidates use negative advertising. It makes me never wanted vote, and it is why most don't vote.

Quick answer to that, it does work.

DEVINE: Well, you know, we haven't. OK, we haven't. I know you're laughing. And I want to tell you something. I want to tell you something. I know. You know why you're laughing, because you've seen a lot of negative ads against the president. But you've never seen one that said, I'm John Kerry and I approve this message.

(BOOS)

DEVINE: OK, you haven't. You've seen a hundred million from them that attacked us.

ZAHN: What about the ads that the Bush campaign has also distanced itself.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: The whole issue of Vietnam.

ESKEW: There is one right now running about the Olympics and freedom breaking out and 50 million people freed. So, yes, we've got positive ads out. Is there an ad that is in question, Tad?

You want to throw one at me?

DEVINE: Tucker, you have spent your campaign has spent over $100 million running negative ads against John Kerry on everything. Every subject from taxes and everything. It's been...

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW: ...like the patriot act.

DEVINE: Partial abortion. You know, the morning after pill. You've run ads on that. You've run ads on taxes. You've run ads on taxes. You've run ads on defense money. Full of falsehoods. I want to tell you something, it's the most negative campaign in history because the president has no record to run on. That's why. It's that simple.

ESKEW: Listen, Tad, that's painting with such a broad brush. I mean, this audience and the American people will deliver specifics. They want specifics. We're going to deliver them. And you can paint that all the way you want with tar, but it's not going to work. It's not going to work.

ZAHN: But is this audience sick of these ads that both campaigns are distancing themselves?

You are, you're fed up right. You had it. One last quick question, we can only give you 3 seconds apiece to answer. Please go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Marie Moss (ph) and the Founder of PCB (ph) a youth oriented television show that's positive for young people. My question is in light of the voter registration campaign that's going on for the 18 to 35 from Russell Simmons, P. Diddy, MTV and so forth, what does each campaign plan to do to ensure their vote financially, economically, so that when they get out of college they can get out of a job like, you know, within a year, and so forth.

ESKEW: This is why this president is so passionate about education. Remember when he came into office as a governor who is recognized nationally as working on that issue and passed the No Child Left Behind Act which is K-through 12 education and has increased...

(BOO)

ZAHN: They don't like that in this room!

ESKEW: I'll tell you what, it's been distorted by guys like John Kerry who called it groundbreaking! When it passed.

DEVINE: These people are getting their taxes raised here because of it, OK.

ESKEW: I got a short amount of time. ZAHN: 20 seconds and I've got to give Tad a chance and we got to move on.

ESKEW: Pell Grants which he's increased with Congress by over 40 percent which helped families that can't afford a college education and work. And really do work. Pell Grants are bipartisan.

ZAHN: Tad, only 30 seconds and we are off the air.

DEVINE: Pell Grants have been cut while George Bush has been president. What John Kerry will do, is he will grant everyone a $4,000 a year tuition tax credit, OK, to allow them to go to a community college, to go to state college. And he will also invest heavily in education and that's where the money from the Bush tax cut, the roll back on the wealthy will go into health and education.

ZAHN: We got to leave it there. We've heard the very important issues that undecided voters are wrestling with here in Ohio. Over the next 76 days, you may get the answers to your questions from the upcoming Republican National Convention or this fall's series of presidential debates if this election is anything like the last, it's going to go down to the wire.

You kind of are feeling that, aren't you, gentlemen?

To our guests, Tucker Eskew and Tad Devine, thank you very much for your time. Thank you for your patience as the thunderstorm blew us right off the air and a special thanks here to the folks here at the Stark County Courthouse in Canton, Ohio for your gracious hospitality.

One last question for you. Of the folks that walked in undecided tonight, show of hands. Let me see those hands again of those of you have not made up their minds. All right, hands down. Have any of you changed your minds or gotten closer to making a decision based on what you heard this evening. All right, some of what said was effective with those voters. A lot of work for both campaigns. We will continue to watch the work of both of your campaigns, we know how important this state is to the ultimate success of it. Thank you gentleman again for your time. Thank you all for joining us tonight. Appreciate your dropping by.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Again, thanks again for joining us. from Canton, Ohio, have a great evening.

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