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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Pressure Mounts as Debate Nears; A Look at Presidential Polls

Aired September 29, 2004 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us tonight here on PRIME TIME POLITICS.
On the night before their first decisive heavyweight encounter, when their political futures and the direction of the entire country is on the line, what to expect from President Bush and Senator John Kerry. We will look at their positions, their words, and their styles.

And our PRIME TIME POLITICS exclusive, who is up, who is down, the final numbers before the debate rocks the campaign.

Plus, on the eve of their face-to-face showdown, the Kerry team tries to pin the flip-flop label on the president. We'll look at the facts tonight.

And we begin tonight in Florida, where the anticipation is starting to build. George W. Bush and John Kerry headed there today, trailed by political supporting casts and crowds of reporters. Once again, the Sunshine State is the main event in U.S. politics, even though it's also been the main event in four straight disasters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): In Florida, damage from Hurricane Jeanne, or maybe it's Frances or Charley or even Ivan, seems to be everywhere. And in the midst of this latest cleanup, the president of the United States is offering encouragement, sympathetic words and federal aid.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The federal government is committed to helping people here get back on their feet. I call on Congress to pass my supplemental requests quickly, so we can get more people in Florida the help they need. These have been trying weeks for Americans across the Southeast, especially in this state.

ZAHN: While President Bush was walk going through storm-damaged orange groves in Lake Wales, Florida, work crews were putting the finishing touches to the pristine stage at the University of Miami's Convocation Center at Coral Gables.

The president and Senator Kerry will square off here tomorrow night. Today, however, the attacking was left to Vice President Cheney and his wife, Lynne, who noticed (ph) wearing orange at a rally in West Virginia.

LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Dick, what do those orange shirts remind you of?

(LAUGHTER)

L. CHENEY: I'll say it. How about John Kerry's suntan?

(LAUGHTER)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, I may have to dissociate myself from that.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: The counterpunch came from John Edwards.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to say one other thing about the debate. People keep talking about it being a test for John Kerry. It's a test for George Bush. It's a test.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

EDWARDS: It's a test for whether this president is finally going to be straight and come clean with the American people about what's happening in Iraq.

ZAHN: Kerry himself arrives in Florida tonight, as does a brand- new Democratic attack ad that features some prominent Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: Two hundred billion in costs, daily kidnappings and murders, new terrorist havens, more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers killed. This week, it will come down to one question. Will Americans finally hear the real truth about Iraq?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: As John Kerry arrives in Florida, a brand-new reminder of just how high the stakes will be for tomorrow's debate. Tonight, we are releasing the results of a brand-new poll in three critical states, starting with Florida.

President Bush leads Senator Kerry by five points, 49 to 44 percent, among Florida's registered voters. But among the more important subset of likely voters, the president's lead is even bigger, 52 to 43 percent, a full nine points. Next up, Ohio, and some baffling mixed signals. Senator Kerry has a four-point lead among all registered voters, 50 to 46 percent. But look at this. Among likely voters in Ohio, President Bush moves ahead by two points, 50 to 48 percent.

Finally Pennsylvania and another case of mixed results. senator Kerry has a four-point lead among registered voters, 49 to 45 percent. But when we look at the results among Pennsylvania's likely voters, the president holds a three-point lead, 49 to 46 percent.

And so, on the eve of the first presidential debate and with only 34 days left in the campaign, this looks like a race that is still too close to call.

Senior White House correspondent John King is in Miami covering the president. Senior political reporter Candy Crowley has been following the senator. And she is in Bal Harbour tonight.

Good to see both of you.

I want both of you to take a closer look at these numbers coming out of Florida tonight that gives you an idea of how the candidates are tracking on a bunch of different issues. Check this out with me, the president leading on the issue of terrorism, a 20-point lead at that, an 11-point lead on Iraq, and even a slight lead on who would do better on the economy.

Candy, how does John Kerry turn these numbers around?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you've started to see how he would like to.

And that is that, in the last two weeks, wherever he talked about an issue, it was not just about the policy of George Bush. It was about how George Bush's character, so far as John Kerry saw it, was reflected in those policies. So you heard a lot even it in that commercial: George Bush hasn't come clean. George Bush isn't telling you the truth.

So that gets at the kind of leadership and the commander in chief. And he's taking him on directly on Iraq, saying Iraq is a mess. So it's a truth and a countertruth and it's going very hard at George Bush on what the situation is on the ground. As you know, John Kerry spent a lot of time over the past couple of months explaining his own vote, his own positions on Iraq.

And what they want to do is really change the focus of that debate and put it back on George Bush and how we got in to where we are now on the ground.

ZAHN: So does the Kerry camp seem to be encouraged at all by a "TIME" magazine poll which shows that 55 percent of Americans do not think the president has leveled with them?

CROWLEY: Well, sure. But then you look at -- there are always inside a poll lots of things that they can glom on to.

But they know very well and have said very clearly that they need to show that John Kerry not only has a plan for Iraq, but he has a different plan for Iraq, and not just that Iraq is a mess, but that John Kerry is the guy who can get us out of it and George Bush is a guy who's a recipe for staying in it.

So even though there are some nice numbers in there, what they are really pointed out is those Iraq and terrorism numbers that they're looking at. The economy numbers, I must say, they sort of see that as Iraq and terrorism kind of lifting all boats. They think that would sink if Bush's numbers on those other things also went down.

ZAHN: John, back to the issue of Iraq. Even the president's most ardent supporters believe he does have some vulnerability on that issue.

How does he convince the 55 percent of the American public polled who don't believe the president has leveled with them about the reality of what our troops face on the ground there?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, Bush aides concede that he must make the case that yes, it is difficult in Iraq and that, yes, he has been leveling, but just because it is difficult does not mean you cannot be optimistic about the future.

The president cannot run from his record. Aides insist that. Now, he will continue to make the point, in his view, that Senator Kerry has given conflicting positions. They believe they need to keep Senator Kerry from crossing the threshold, if you will, of being a credible commander in chief. They think they've been pretty successful so far.

But there's no doubt about it. The one thing Bush aides say is, he cannot be arrogant. He cannot dismiss questions, because while he dismisses John Kerry, they do concede that Senator Kerry is raising questions that a majority of Americans do have about this president's Iraq policy. He must explain the policy. He must defend the policy. And aides say the key to doing that is to do it forcefully, but also optimistically and confidently.

John, let's move to Ohio now, where John Kerry has shown some improvement in a number of different ways in that state. Is the Bush camp worried about that?

KING: They are a bit worried. It is cliche, but it is also true. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio. So those numbers are too close for comfort in the Bush campaign.

They do think it is significant in every state I believe when you showed those polling numbers that when you go from registered voters to likely voters, President Bush's standing improves. The Republicans believe their base is more energized, that they at this point in the campaign have a better grassroots network to stay in touch with their volunteers, to keep people involved.

But make no mistake about it. They believe they have to win Ohio and that's too close. And that's why the president is dedicating so much time, so much money, more trips by the vice president. Ohio is the lynchpin of the Republican strategy.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And, Candy, in spite of these polls showing John Kerry has gained some support among registered voters, there's the John was just talking about. He does have problems among the subset of most likely voters. In the state of Pennsylvania, what is the Kerry camp really looking at here?

CROWLEY: Well, what they're really looking at is the need to do exactly what George Bush needs to do, and that is, get out that base.

They have high hopes for some of these other groups that have been out there, particularly ACT is one of the groups, MoveOn.org, that have been registering voters. They believe that some are those voters are below the radar screen when you do the likely voters. They believe that the registered voter model is better for Kerry and they think that the balance for those in some of the polls is off.

Having said that, those polls are too close for comfort in Pennsylvania, 21 electoral votes. Al Gore won Pennsylvania. If George Bush -- I'm sorry. If John Kerry loses Pennsylvania, he has got to find 21 other electoral votes someplace else. That's tough. They've got to win Pennsylvania.

ZAHN: John, back to tomorrow night. Does the Bush camp the president's ready?

KING: They do say he's ready. They say no more mock debates, that he feels energized, he feels confident and prepared. He will have some sessions with senior aides to go over, among other things, the remarks Senator Kerry made today about his support or lack of support for the Iraq war, his explanation.

He called it a moment of fatigue and an inarticulate moment about his -- voted for the $87 billion before he voted against the money to pay for the war, of course. But he will have another hurricane damage tour here tomorrow, Paula, no formal debate sessions.

And should make this point quickly. The White House believe the president has benefited from the fact that the campaign in this state, Florida, has been frozen by all these hurricanes, because he has been the incumbent sending all those billions of federal dollars. They believe the president has benefited, if you will, politically.

ZAHN: Oh, sure. It's been kind of hard for John Kerry to go in there and campaign under the circumstances.

Candy, a final thought about the Kerry camp. I understand that some of those folks did not think John Kerry did a very good job on morning television. Do they think that is a reflection how he might do tomorrow night?

CROWLEY: Well, no.

In fact, if you ask them about tomorrow night, they say no reverse spin anymore. They say, look, we expect he will do very well in tomorrow night's debate. They're kind of drawing the sting away from what they do believe is one of George Bush's strong points, and that is the whole issue of personality. They say, look, George Bush is a really nice guy. And, you know, people find him an attractive personality. But this is not about personality.

So they're sort of trying to set the meter someplace else. ZAHN: Sure.

CROWLEY: But, yes, they do know that he has to explain all of those things that George Bush has described as flip-flops. He has to do that and he has to do that very hard tomorrow night.

ZAHN: Sounds like they're conceding the style point, but not the substance point.

Candy Crowley, thanks so much.

John King, that is one heck of an umbrella you must be standing under. You're very dry despite what's happening behind you.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: See you both tomorrow in Miami. Thanks.

And CNN will have extensive live coverage before, during and after the debate, getting under way at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. I will be there with a special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW at 8:00. And the candidates go head to head at 9:00.

And that brings us to our voting booth question of the day. Will the candidate's performance in the debates be a deciding factor in your vote? Just log onto CNN.com/Paula and give us your opinion. The results at the end of the hour.

But first on PRIME TIME POLITICS, President Bush and Senator Kerry get ready to face the voters and each other.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): No stand-ins, no advisers, nowhere to turn. For the first time, the candidates will slug it out on the same stage. We'll look at their strengths, their weaknesses and their pasts that could come back to haunt them and much more as PRIME TIME POLITICS continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: You're looking at a live picture of the University of Miami's Convocation Center. That is where, in just about 24 hours from now, you will see President Bush face off against John Kerry.

Tomorrow's debate in Florida may be President Bush's best chance to build a strong lead over Senator Kerry or Senator Kerry's best chance to close the gap and overtake the president. And their performances won't be just about what they say, but how they say it.

In a debate that's critical, there will definitely be points for style.

Here's Dan Lothian. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): At President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, and this resort off the beaten path in Wisconsin, senior advisers are helping President Bush and John Kerry cram for tomorrow's big test.

Both candidates have mastered the art of debating, but with two different styles. President Bush cut his teeth in Texas, where Wayne Slater and Jim Moore, who wrote the book "Bush's Brain," followed as he silenced political doubters.

WAYNE SLATER, "DALLAS MORNING NEWS": He understands that it's a quick declarative sentence is much more effective than explaining some elaborate policy proposal. Voters really don't want to hear that. They want to understand essentially who you are and what you would do.

LOTHIAN: It worked against the highly touted debater, incumbent Ann Richards in the 1994 campaign for Texas governor.

GOV. ANN RICHARDS (D), TEXAS: I think there are serious questions to be raised whether or not George Bush is qualified to be governor.

BUSH: I think that this is a diversion away from not talking about the issues that face Texas. I want to discuss welfare, education. I want to discuss the juvenile justice system.

LOTHIAN: Mr. Bush stayed on message. He would do the same in presidential primary debates and against Al Gore.

JIM MOORE, JOURNALIST: Mr. Bush's performance is always the performance of a regular guy who is standing at a podium.

LOTHIAN: Kerry's studious approach is rooted in history.

(on camera): Senator Kerry has been at this for quite some time. In fact, while attending prep school here at Saint Paul's in Concord, New Hampshire, he was on the debate team. He won two debating awards and he even studied classic debates. He continued to hone his skills at Yale, where, by all accounts, he excelled.

(voice-over): "Boston Globe" reporter Frank Phillips has covered Kerry since the '70s.

FRANK PHILLIPS, "BOSTON GLOBE": He's smart, quick, knows the issues. Exactly.

(on camera): But is he too complex for the average viewer, for the voter?

PHILLIPS: Well, it is a problem.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Kerry is seen as long-winded, lacking in personality. But this Vietnam veteran is also a fighter. Here's what happened in his tough 1996 Senate reelection campaign against former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld.

PHILLIPS: Kerry very effectively stopped Bill Weld from making the death penalty an issue when Weld pointed to somebody, a victim's family member in the audience, and said:

BILL WELD (R), MASSACHUSETTS SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Tell her why the life of the man that murdered her son is worth more than the life of her son, the police officer?

PHILLIPS: And Kerry just let it hang out there and then turned to Weld and talked about:

SEN. JOHN KERRY (MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I have been opposed to the death penalty. I know something about killing. I don't like killing. And I don't think a state honors life by turning around and sanctioning killing.

LOTHIAN: In the past, the president has also managed to also score points by lowering expectations. But with four years in the White House, many believe a much more difficult argument to make this time. Experts say Kerry has the most to gain, but needs to be clear on the issues.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, DEAN ANNENBERG SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION: To establish to the American people that he can hold his own, that he's just as presidential.

LOTHIAN: As for Bush?

SLATER: He and his aides understand that debates are about making an emotional connection with an audience.

LOTHIAN: The president will need to defend his record without being knocked off message.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Dan Lothian.

And joining us now from Dallas to look at the challenges both candidates face tomorrow, former presidential adviser David Gergen, who is now with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard university, having worked with both Republican and Democratic presidents.

It's always good to see you, David.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: So we've just heard these experts say that both of these men are considered good debaters for vastly different reasons. How do you think they're going to do tomorrow night?

GERGEN: I think they'll both do reasonably well. I think that it's likely Senator Kerry will probably be -- will be judged after the debate is over as ahead on points on substance and that President Bush will be ahead on points on style.

And if that's the case, it may be seen as draw. And a draw is a victory for George W. Bush. The burden here, Paula, is on Senator Kerry, not the president. The president has this fairly solid lead now. And for John Kerry, this is make-or-break time. He has to reverse the momentum in this campaign and he has to do it tomorrow night. Tomorrow night's his big shot. After this first debate, as you well know, the audience level drops off and people begin to make up their minds after the first debate. So this is make-or-break time for him.

ZAHN: And, David, we can almost predict what the incoming fire will be to John Kerry. We have heard it in the preambles this week over and over again. He's the flip-flopper. He's inconsistent. How does he have to define himself tomorrow night?

GERGEN: He has to have a one- or two-good line response when that comes up, Paula.

He has to be able to turn that argument. Reagan had that famous response in 1984 when the question about whether he was becoming senile arose in the campaign. And he turned when the question came up in the debate, and he said, I will not let -- I will not exploit my opponent's age in this campaign.

And he has to find -- Kerry has to find a way now to turn that on Bush and come back to pressing the attack, pressing, look, I may have changed my position, but you're losing a war, Mr. President. You've taken us into Iraq. We've got 1,000 people killed there. We're in a no-win situation. That that's argument he got to make.

And the president, by contrast, has got to say, sure, we're going through a rough patch. Every war is going to have a rough patch. But the job of a president, Senator Kerry, is to remain steady and patient. That's what the country needs to do and that's something you lack.

ZAHN: But a number of Republicans told me today their fear for the president is at some point he has to come clean or at least level with the American public that things perhaps are more difficult than he has let on. Do you agree?

GERGEN: I agree with that. I think he has got two traps.

One is to be too arrogant tomorrow night and dismissive. I don't think he'll do that. But the second one and the bigger is that he's going to continue painting this rosy scenario. And there are now four or five Republican heavyweight senators who have been out saying we're not doing well in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Not doing well? They're out and outright saying that we're losing.

GERGEN: Well, I wouldn't go quite that far. But what they have said, Senator Hagel, for example, Chuck Hagel, Nebraska, Republican, independent voice, very good senator, has said we're in deep trouble in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But hang on a minute, David. Yesterday, you have a full- page ad -- or two days ago -- that was run by the DNC quoting John McCain as saying -- quote -- "We are losing in Iraq."

GERGEN: Well, you have to look at the context folks what he was saying in there.

I think that you wouldn't -- McCain is not saying we're going to lose the war. Listen, there is no question that is there fodder out there from Republican senators for Kerry to use. So he has got to come at the president. And the president says, yes, we have had some rough days here and it is going to get rougher, John. It is going to get rougher after the election. We are going to have to go on an offensive and we are going to lose some people doing that.

But we're heading toward an election in January. You have got to be patient in this. Of course we're going to go through a bad patch. Nobody ever said the war on terrorism was going to be easy. You have got to set a course and stick it to, John, or you'll never win. And your problem, John, is, you keep changing course and nobody knows what the heck you're going to do. Everybody thinks you are going to get out and you're going to be a defeatist about this.

That that's president's argument. So he's got to shove back. Each man has got to take the incoming fire, know what is going to be out there, the flip-flopper vs. the guy who got us in a quagmire, and then turn it back. And you've got to in this situation -- the president goes in there with a lot of confidence because he has got the upper hand in the campaign.

ZAHN: Sure.

GERGEN: Listen. Iraq has been there for weeks now. And John Kerry has not been able to make it his issue. The president is far ahead on the war on terrorism and the capacity to handle Iraq.

The president wants to stay steady and firm and insist on steadiness and patience. It's Kerry's burden to punch holes in that and show at the same time he can be trusted with power.

ZAHN: OK, need a brief answer, one final question.

GERGEN: Sure.

ZAHN: If you believe that part of the president's talent is making this emotional connection with the audience, what is the opportunity John Kerry has to do that?

GERGEN: That is an interesting point. I think some self-deprecating humor about his long-windedness, his nuanced approach to everything, every sentence with three commas in it, I think would help a lot. He's got to see this not as a debate, so much as a conversation with the American people, so that he has got to score debating points even as he's trying to connect with people back home. And that takes humor.

Reagan was the master at that. John Kerry has never shown a lot of deftness there. But if he could tomorrow night, it would surprise people. I think it would warm him up a lot. And it would leave him with what he needs. He has to come out tomorrow night with some momentum. Otherwise, George Bush could lock up the election tomorrow night.

ZAHN: David Gergen, thanks for being candid about both camps tonight. Appreciate it.

GERGEN: OK. Thank you.

ZAHN: See you in Miami.

The Bush campaign has pinned the flip-flop label on John Kerry, as we've just been talking about. But how consistent has the president been over the last four years? Judge for yourself when we come back.

But first, here is what conservative talk radio is saying about tomorrow's matchup in Miami.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: There's a piece in "The New York Times" today, Al Gore advising Kerry on how to debate Bush. Folks, I will tell you, what have I always told you? The more you fail in the Democratic Party, the higher your status is in that party.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As they have gotten ready for this week's big debate, both presidential candidates have tried to preempt some of the most obvious lines of attack. John Kerry addressed the flip-flop issue by trying to clarify his line that he had voted for $87 billion in funding for U.S. troops before he voted against it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: It just was a very inarticulate way of saying something. And I had one of those inarticulate moments late in the evening when I was dead tired in the primaries and I didn't say something clearly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Actually, Kerry made two stops in West Virginia that day. In March, he used the for and against line during the afternoon event, not the night event, which the Republicans have made a big deal of today.

But Kerry isn't alone when it comes to being vulnerable on the flip-flop issue. The Democrats are now stepping up their efforts to point out that President Bush has also changed course on a number of critical issues. We check the president's record involving the war on terror and Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Six days after the attacks of 9/11, the president had this to say about terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

BUSH: I want justice. And there's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said wanted dead or alive.

ZAHN: But only six months later, catching bin Laden was no longer a priority.

BUSH: The idea of focusing on one person really indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission.

I truly am not that concerned about him.

ZAHN: The Bush administration at first opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So creating a Cabinet office doesn't solve the problem.

ZAHN: But less than three months later, that all changed.

BUSH: I asked the Congress to join me in creating a single permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission, securing the homeland of America and protecting the American people.

ZAHN: In building a case for going to war with Iraq, the president argued that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

BUSH: Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.

ZAHN: But when no weapons were found, his emphasis shifted.

BUSH: Because America and our allies acted, one of the most evil, brutal regimes in history is gone forever.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BUSH: The dictator of Iraq committed many atrocities and he had many more in mind.

ZAHN: Last month, when the president was asked if the United States could win the war on terror, he was doubtful.

BUSH: I don't think you can win it, but I think you can create conditions so that the -- those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world, let's put it that way.

ZAHN: But the very next day, he reversed himself.

BUSH: We are winning this war against these terrorists, and we will win this war against these terrorists.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: The president in his own words on several subjects (ph), almost certain to come up on tomorrow's debate.

We're going to look at the real difference between the candidates' plans for Iraq and global war on terror when we come back.

And remember our voting booth question of the day. Will the candidates' performances in the debates be a deciding factor in your vote? Log on to CNN.com/Paula and give us your opinion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tomorrow brings the first of three opportunities that President Bush and John Kerry will have to go head to head on the issues. And in the coming weeks, you're going to get a chance to tell us what you think about them and their positions.

We will hold live town hall meetings in four key battleground states: October 7 in Racine, Wisconsin; a week later, on the 14th in Bucks County, Pennsylvania; the third Thursday, October 21 in Clark County, Ohio; and then November 1, the night before the election, in Kissimmee, Florida.

Iraq, Afghanistan and the threat of terror here at home, of course, will dominate the first presidential debate tomorrow night. Here is Tom Foreman on what actually sets the candidates apart.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If the election were held today overseas, John Kerry would win by a landslide. A poll of 35 nations finds people in 30 of them want President Bush out, mostly because of Iraq. His portrayal of other nations as friend or foe, good or evil has more than half saying Mr. Bush has made them feel worse about America.

STEVEN KULL, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: People around the world are having the feeling that the United States is not taking into account their perspectives, their points of view, their feelings.

Kerry does send out signals of a greater readiness to cooperate, to listen to allies. And that does create a positive resonance in the world.

FOREMAN: But time and again, polls here have shown that Americans think George Bush can handle Iraq better than his opponent, even though foreign policy analysts say the war is now so complex, it may defy management. NANCY ROMAN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Whoever becomes president inherits a situation that's going to consume a lot of energy. And really, actions on the ground are dictating a lot of what will have to be decided.

FOREMAN: The candidates' plans are different. Senator Kerry says American troops will start pulling out in four years. President Bush says we will leave when we're ready. Mr. Kerry says Iraq is sapping resources from the war on terror.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Iraq was a profound diversion from that war and from our greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden.

FOREMAN: Mr. Bush says Iraq was part of that mission.

BUSH: Had we failed to act, the dictator's mass destruction programs would continue to this day.

FOREMAN: Kerry says he will get international help for stabilizing Iraq. But as the European media covered the upcoming debates and horrifying developments from Baghdad, foreign leaders are reassuring their constituents they will not send troops unless the U.N. is in charge.

CHRISTOPHE DE ROQUEFEUILLE, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE: It's going to depend on the kind of relationship John Kerry has with Europeans, if he's asking for more, let's say, political involvement, political commitment, diplomatic help, financial help maybe.

FOREMAN (on camera): Both candidates have plans for the war on terror calling for better intelligence, retraining of military forces and beefed up border security.

(voice-over) Both say new potential nuclear threats must be eliminated.

But analysts say the trick will be making such ideas work against unseen enemies in a dangerous world.

ROMAN: I often joke that Democrats should be voting for Bush and Republicans should be voting for Kerry, because I think the next four years will be very difficult.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: I think that's something everyone can agree on tonight. That was our Tom Foreman reporting.

Joining us now from Washington to debate the candidates' plans for Iraq, Terry Holt, a senior advisor to the Republican National Committee and in Kerry headquarters, Kerry campaign senior advisor, Chad Clanton.

Great to have both of you with us. Chad, I want to you counter some of what the Republicans have said about John Kerry's goal to get U.S. troops out of Iraq during what he said would be his first term. They say you're basically telling the insurgents, "Hey, we're getting out. Come on in here and really take control of this country."

Why are they wrong?

CHAD CLANTON, SENIOR ADVISOR, KERRY CAMPAIGN: Not at all. The bottom line is ask military moms, ask military fathers if they think it's a good idea to have a target date for when we're going to bring our U.S. soldiers home.

John Kerry has a plan. George Bush does not.

And I think another thing that you would hear from the military mothers and fathers if you asked them is that George Bush hasn't been telling the truth about the real situation in Iraq.

Today in the "Washington Post" we saw another evidence of George Bush ignoring real intelligence saying the situation in Iraq is getting bleaker. Yet we still hear these rosy pep rally-like speeches on the campaign trail from George W. Bush.

He's trying to cover up from his most catastrophic mistake as president, which was going alone in Iraq. As a result, U.S. taxpayers are on the hook...

ZAHN: OK.

CLANTON: ... for $200 billion with no end in sight. We've lost 1,000 troops and violence is on the rise.

ZAHN: All right. Let me give Terry the opportunity to focus on the narrow issue that a lot of people are talking about, including some of the president's supporters. They think the president is in fantasyland when it comes to Iraq and that he has not leveled with the American public about what really lies ahead now.

TERRY HOLT, BUSH/CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Well, this bizarre labeling by the Kerry campaign...

ZAHN: Not just the Kerry campaign. You know, there are some key...

HOLT: But Paula...

ZAHN: Republican Senators who have been critical of the president's policy.

HOLT: Yes, the Republican Senators and the Republican president are all supporting President Bush for president and not John Kerry.

The fact is that the reality on the ground is tough. The president's never made any bones about it. This is going to be a long war. It's going to be a difficult war, and we're going to have dark days.

But ultimately -- I heard -- I heard Chad, and I've heard him say the same thing several times, that John Kerry has a plan. But none of us have a clue as to what it is.

It was, just a few months ago that John Kerry was going to leave Iraq within six months. They changed that to four years. That means they don't really have a plan.

ZAHN: All right.

HOLT: We are -- we're talking about strong homeland security.

CLANTON: That's not true.

HOLT: A strong national defense.

ZAHN: Chad, could you jump in here?

CLANTON: Yes, let me jump in here.

What Terry says is just what the president says. He says we're making progress in Iraq.

I think when people look at their newscasts at night they think George Bush is disconnected from reality in a bad way. We see kidnappings. We see car bombings almost every day. A true fact is that American soldiers are being attacked more and more ever month.

Yet the president still insists that we're still making progress. He says we need to stay the course on his supposed plan that he has yet to articulate.

ZAHN: All right.

CLANTON: I think a real question for the debate tomorrow night is will President Bush admit that he has not had a concrete plan for Iraq? Will he admit that it was mistake to go it alone and leave the United States carrying 90 percent of the burdens?

HOLT: Paula...

ZAHN: All right, Terry...

HOLT: We suggest 50-50...

ZAHN: I would assume, since we've heard that stated by a number of Democrats this week, the president is going to have to face those two questions. How will he answer those?

HOLT: Well, the president's going to talk about his clear determined leadership over time about a broad set of policies, like education reform, like lowering taxes to get our economy going again.

ZAHN: But he can't do that tomorrow night. He has to focus on foreign policy tomorrow night. HOLT: Iraq is a battlefield in the global war on terror. It's going to take a long time to win, and it's going to take strong and determined leadership.

Not vacillation, not double-talk, not saying that "I voted for the war before I voted against it," not taking 11 or 12 positions whether or not he supports the war in Iraq.

Iraq is a battlefield...

CLANTON: But this is...

HOLT: ... in a global war on terror. And just like Afghanistan, if we signal weakness to the terrorists, then we can kiss winning it good-bye. And John Kerry has vacillated so much I'm sure that most people's heads are spinning to try and figure out what exactly he will do if he were to become president.

ZAHN: Well, I think...

CLANTON: Paula...

ZAHN: ... both of these candidates have a lot to prove tonight.

CLANTON: ... we don't need any more of it. If this is progress, Paula, we don't need any more of it. Second of all, it wasn't a war on terror until George W. Bush went in alone. Now, terrorists are flooding...

HOLT: It was a war on terror on September 11, 2001.

ZAHN: OK, gentlemen. I've got to cut you off here, because...

CLANTON: George Bush is the wrong choice in Iraq.

ZAHN: We know we're going to hear a lot of what you two are saying tonight tomorrow night. But we appreciate your insights, and actually, the little map that we can follow tomorrow night. Thank you both.

There is no shortage of professional advice being offered to the candidates as they get ready for the debate. But you'll be amazed at what some of these kids have to offer. No kidding. Right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Twenty-four hours from now, all the studying, the cramming (ph), the mock debating will be over ,and George W. Bush and John Kerry will face off in Florida.

But if they want some last minute advice on debating, maybe they should follow our Bruce Burkhardt to a certain high school in Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRANDON SHEATS, GRADY H.S. DEBATE TEAM: You'll win that -- this debate over, you know, saying Bush's base is declining right now.

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They may not be presidential timber yet but these things know a thing or two about winning arguments. They're part of the debate team here at Atlanta's Grady High School.

President Bush and John Kerry would be well advised to tap into their experience.

JEFFREY THOMAS, GRADY H.S. DEBATE TEAM: Be loud.

BURKHARDT (on camera): Be loud.

THOMAS: Be clear. Don't say "um" a lot. It shows that you're not confident and not sure what you're saying.

TYE TANARIAS, GRADY H.S. DEBATE TEAM: You need to stand up strong, tall, keep a powerful stance. Use body language to emphasize key points. But don't go too far where you look like you're flailing your arms about, you know, on everything you say.

SHEATS: I'm not a fan, personally, of the, you know, black suit with a red tie, because it's just -- to me it's too cliche.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): Good tips. But what is a debater to do when an opponent throws a curve like...

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER RESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There you go again.

TANARIAS: I'd probably say, "Well, yes, I do go again," and continue on with my point saying why I'm the better candidate.

BURKHARDT: Lessons of history not lost on these young debaters who were infants when Michael Dukakis blew this question.

BERNARD SHAW, FORMER CNN CORRESPONDENT: If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the murder?

MICHAEL DUKAKIS, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't, Bernard.

MATT WESTMORELAND, GRADY H.S. DEBATE TEAM: And Michael Dukakis all throughout the campaign was being painted as soft on crime and he wouldn't be able to defend the country and we couldn't trust him in the midst of a Cold War. And his answer played right into that fear.

BURKHARDT: Presidential debaters have it easier than these kids. Campaigns have written the rules so that the candidates don't ever question each other, which this is essence of true debate.

WESTMORELAND: That's the way we win debate rounds, is by catching the other person off guard.

BURKHARDT (on camera): What kind of rule is that when you can't ask questions of each other?

WESTMORELAND: I agree. The debates, to a certain extent, have become so -- it's kind of like the conventions. They've become so rehearsed and scheduled, that it's why its attendance or viewership is down.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): Although the TV networks are ignoring it, the campaigns agreed to another rule that would take all the fun out of it. No cut away shots that sometimes embarrass a candidate: George the first looking at his watch or Al Gore letting loose with a sigh.

BUSH: ... that's what the government gets to do.

WESTMORELAND: First off, not to sigh, but just to stand your ground.

THOMAS: Another suggestion probably for Bush specifically don't look down at your sheet a lot.

BURKHARDT: But whether it's high school or a presidential campaign, it's all about scoring.

KIMBERLY HAGAN, GRADY H.S. DEBATE TEAM: Kind of like playing a chess game. It doesn't really matter who's right. It just matters who makes the best strategic choices.

BURKHARDT: And a final tip: while you don't have to know the answer to everything, at least have command of some of the basics.

ADMIRAL JAMES STOCKDALE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who am I? Why am I here?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was our Bruce Burkhardt reporting.

Most news coverage reflects the serious side of American politics, but special coverage takes on a whole new meaning at one news show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like George Bush because he truly embodies what I believe a leader should have.

ED HELMS, "THE DAILY SHOW": He walks into the U.N., he's like I (expletive deleted) you, (expletive deleted) you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Yes, it takes a special kind of reporter to do an interview like that. My conversation with "The Daily Show's" Ed Helms next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: Tonight, as we look ahead to tomorrow's Bush/Kerry debate, mouths are watering. Those mouths belong to the people of "The Daily Show," who stand to get a whole lot of fresh material for their satiric take on "Indecision 2004," as they call it.

The show's campaign coverage has become a staple for fans of political news.

And joining us now, a familiar face to those fans, "Daily Show" correspondent Ed Helms. Good to see you.

HELMS: Thank you very much. Great to be here.

ZAHN: So how much fodder are you going to get tomorrow night?

HELMS: Well, I predict oodles.

ZAHN: Oodles.

HELMS: Oodles of fodder. Yes. I mean, at the end of the day, I think everyone thinks they know what Bush and Kerry are going to say and how they're going to say it. But they are going to be some surprises, I think. I think they're going to catch each other off guard, and those are probably the things that we'll pounce on.

ZAHN: And of course, you'll capture the absurdity of it all?

HELMS: Yes, because that is what we do.

ZAHN: You do fake news better than anybody I know out there. And you've got the best job on that show, I think, because you get to go out on the street and talk with real people.

Let's show our audience what happened when you met up with one of your favorite punk rockers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like George Bush because he truly embodies what I believe a leader should have.

HELMS: If you're a Bush man, aren't you raging for the machine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Quite possibly. Raging for the Bush machine.

HELMS: It could be said that Bush embodies the punk spirit?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so.

HELMS: You know, he walks into the U.N. He's like I (expletive deleted) you, (expletive deleted) you. We're going to go into Iraq and we're going to rock Iraq. We're going to rock Iraq, and (expletive deleted) you.

Of course, I'm paraphrasing. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: A Peabody Award coming for that interview. Where did you find that guy?

HELMS: Well, it's amazing. America has a lot of rocks, and if you look under the right ones you'll find amazing things.

ZAHN: So you guys -- you didn't pay him to dress up that way? You didn't pay him to say what he said?

HELMS: No. Absolutely not.

ZAHN: He's a Bushy?

HELMS: In all seriousness that -- everyone that we interview on the show is absolutely real.

ZAHN: Just the rest of you that's fake stuff.

HELMS: Right. We are fake. They are real.

ZAHN: You also have a chance to mix it up with Jon Stewart. We're going to -- who's the host of the show. We're going to take a look at one of those segments now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Last week, the Republican National Committee required everyone attending a Cheney rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to sign an oath of loyalty to the Bush/Cheney ticket before being allowed in.

Now, in fairness, the oath was carefully worded. As displayed in the "Albuquerque Journal," it read, quote, "I, full name, do herby (sic) endorse George W. Bush for reelection of the United States."

Ugh, ugh, sounds great. Where do me sign?

They made you sign the oath, didn't they?

HELMS: They had me by the balls, John. I had to get in, and I couldn't cover the speech from the parking lot. Honestly, I can't even say I regret signing it.

STEWART: You can't?

HELMS: No. I had to sign a second oath swearing I was glad I signed the first one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: That's so much fun.

HELMS: Yes. It's -- it is. It's a lot of fun. And sometimes, the issue itself is a little bit scary, so we try to make it a little sillier.

ZAHN: Are you concerned when you do a segment like that, that it's not a balanced segment, even though you're practicing the finally honed art of fake journalism?

HELMS: No. I think if somebody laughs at the end of the day we've done our job correctly.

A lot of people say that -- that we focus on the Bush team too much. But if you -- if you're going to throw a pie in someone's face, it should be the birthday boy, and not, you know, some random person who happens to be at the party.

ZAHN: I'm going to watch you every night.

HELMS: I -- thanks very much.

ZAHN: Thanks for dropping by. You're going to be doing a live show. We'll look forward to watching it.

HELMS: Thank you very much.

ZAHN: Ed Helms from "The Daily Show." Good luck.

Well, we certainly covered a lot of political ground tonight. Up next, a novel take on each candidate's rather unique speaking style through the eyes of our own Jeanne Moos.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: So far tonight we've looked at substance and style and given President Bush and Senator Kerry debate pointers.

Now for what's really important we turn to Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't read their lips; watch body language. George Bush prefers pointing his finger. John Kerry is big on making a fist and pointing his thumb. He's even ambidextrous.

KERRY: Red, white and blue.

MOOS: There haven't been any smack downs but remember this stare down? But it's the way they speak that makes a comedian's day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America is the new Texas; we'll kick your ass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe I'm behind in the polls to this.

MOOS: Kerry the Brahman versus Bush the bull.

(on camera) If there's one word that sums up President Bush's speaking style, it's "nucular." Nuclear. "Nucular." Nuclear. He's got me confused.

(voice-over) No matter that "nucular" drives his critics ballistic.

BUSH: ... for nuclear bombs.

Could supply them with nuclear -- nuclear activity.

MOOS: A Stanford University linguist has even written a book called "Going Nucular." He calls it...

GEOFFREY NUNBERG, LINGUIST, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: Go Bubba. A way of connecting to people, of turning himself into a Texan and washing Andover and Yale from his shoes.

BUSH: Nuclear weapons.

Nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

MOOS: And though "nuclear" is correct, many in the military prefer "nucular." Merriam-Webster's notes that though "nucular" is disapproved of, it's widely used by educated speakers, including at least one U.S. president.

But for Mia Farrow's character it's a crime.

MIA FARROW, ACTRESS: I've never been seduced by guy who wears loafers and no sock, much less one who says "nucular."

NUNBERG: Well, I think it's a choice. Like the swagger, something that's become second nature.

MOOS: And then there's Senator Kerry's patrician delivery, even more pronounced when he was young.

KERRY: Razed villages in the fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.

NUNBERG: He had that real preppy drawl, what people sometimes call the Massachusetts malocclusion.

KERRY: An abnormality in the coming together of the teeth, highly mockable.

COLIN QUINN, COMEDIAN: You see him in the old footage, like, "The atrocities we committed were without parallel."

MOOS: Some yearn for a dream debate.

BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: But a debate between Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, you could put that on pay-per-view.

MOOS: but in this debate, if either candidate bombs, it's "nucular."

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: A unique perspective from Jeanne Moos.

Now the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question. We asked, "Will the candidates' performances in the debates be a deciding factor in your vote?" Twenty-six percent said yes; 74 percent said no.

As always, it's not a scientific survey, but glad to hear from you all anyway.

That's it for all of us. A reminder: a special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW gets underway from Miami tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Hope you'll join us then. Have a great night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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