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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Post-Debate Analysis

Aired September 30, 2004 - 22:30   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": The president and his family, the Democratic presidential nominee and his wife, Teresa Heinz, up on the stage here at the University of Miami. A 90-minute face-off between the two candidates for the White House. It went along the lines exactly as prescribed in their agreement. All the questions involving national security, homeland security. Both men restating so many of their positions they've often stated, but it did get sort of testy at times. Let's bring in our analyst, Jeff Greenfield. What do you say?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we asked a couple of questions at the beginning. I will try a tentative answer. The first question we wanted answers, did Kerry connect, and I think the answer here was yes. People who tuned in expecting to see a wordy, conflicted, self-contradictory senator, the kind of person who has been portrayed in the press, didn't. He was at pains to be direct, to not go over his time, and also in a classic debate move, to take control of the room, as we talked about. To take the president's words and turn them against him. I talked to one Democratic consultant who has been a little concerned about the Kerry campaign who was quite pleased tonight.

The second question we want to ask is did Bush reassure? And here I think you saw Bush doing what Bush has always done in debates, a relentless focus on messages. If he said mixed messages once, he must have said it a dozen times. You can't lead if you send mixed messages. I think I'm going to defer here, Wolf, and wait a day or two. I was looking at a conservative blog during this debate and they were mixed about Bush. They were a little worried that maybe he was on the defensive. Remember this was his turf, this was the topic he wanted, and I have a feeling that the Kerry camp may be a little more happy with what happened in terms of setting aside some of the really devastating impressions that have hurt his campaign.

BLITZER: Carlos, what do you say?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it was a solid debate. It wasn't as spectacular or as engaged a debate as I thought we might see. I thought it might get more aggressive. I think ultimately the president did not do what Bill Clinton did in 1996 as an incumbent which was to put away his challenger. But nor, by the way, did John Kerry do what Ronald Reagan did in 1988 as the challenger and dramatically change the race.

I think the Kerry people are going to come out of this very happy feeling like he met expectations even exceeded them. I think the Bush people, particularly voters out there, continue to feel good about him. But I think undecideds are going to take another look at John Kerry and more people will tune in to the second debate a week from now, which is reminiscent of 1992. Instead of the audience going down, as it did in '96 and 2000, first debate to second debate, I expect it to go up.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our correspondents. Candy Crowley is standing by, John King is standing by. They were watching it together with all of us. First, Candy, to you, give us your thoughts.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, interesting, they both -- both of them stayed on point. They, both of them, I think, performed to pretty much what they said they were going to do. We heard all along that John Kerry was going to rebut the idea that he's a flip-flopper, that he hasn't been steady by saying yes, I have. He did that. I'm hard pressed to find anything within the debates that will strike anybody as new. On the other hand, it will be new to a lot of people that are seeing this for the first time, and they got a fairly clear -- I think you're right, it was not one of those combustible moments but they certainly got a clear view of where these two guys stand.

BLITZER: John King, let's bring you in. Give us your thoughts.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we heard before the debate from Bush aides that he would explain and defend his Iraq policy with passion and then pivot to the criticism of Senator Kerry, that Senator Kerry has had so many positions on Iraq that it's hard to keep count. We certainly heard repeatedly that argument that Senator Kerry has vacillated too many times, that the troops don't know whether to trust him, that other leaders wouldn't know whether to trust him. I did not hear as much of the explain and defend the policy as we had been led to believe before the debate.

You could tell a few times from the expressions on the president's face that he was just flat out annoyed or disagreed wit the way Senator Kerry was characterizing things. The White House believes the president came into this with an edge on Iraq and the war on terrorism, and it was critical that he leave the debate with the edge on Iraq and the war on terrorism.

I think those will be the two threshold things to look for in the polling 72 hours from now as to whether the American people rethink a bit after this debate, after hearing Senator Kerry in a manner and certainly in a timed open format where they had not heard him before.

One other thing quickly on the president's part, they did say he wanted to make the point that in his view Senator Kerry would give too much power, too much influence, would defer too much to the United Nations and other world leaders on key decisions of U.S. national security. President Bush thinks that's dangerous in the post-9/11 world. We did hear that repeatedly tonight. That was a point the White House thought was very important to make -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. John King, Candy Crowley, I want both of you to stand by. Jeff Greenfield, those cutaway shuts that we saw, we saw the president when he was clearly, shall we say, less than pleased by several of the comments that John Kerry was making. Some would say he was smirking and not necessarily all that flattering, those cutaway shots of the president, whereas Kerry seemed to be more poised and simply standing there.

GREENFIELD: What I think you can absolutely say is that John Kerry was clearly aware the camera might always be on him. You know that they negotiated no cutaways and I do think if somebody was to tune into this debate that really hadn't been following the campaign very closely and looked at those two shots it does seem to me that you could say that John Kerry looked, and I hate this phrase, as presidential as the president in terms strictly of bearing. I think that's one of the things that we would really be wanting to see, how people took -- what people took from the atmospherics of this. Did they see Kerry more as a possible commander-in-chief now than they did 48 hours ago or 24 hours ago? Because the polling clearly indicates that up to now they've seen Bush much more as a commander-in-chief than Kerry.

BLITZER: You know, Carlos, when John Kerry said, "I made a mistake in talking about that," when he acknowledged that I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against the $87 billion for the troops in Iraq, that was one of those moments where a candidate admits making a mistake. It's not something they like to do.

WATSON: They actually both were relatively good at that. You heard the president be very humble and he mentioned an anecdote about Misty Johnson, the widow of one of the troops in Iraq. So both of them, I thought, were humble at the right time. I think John Kerry probably could have done more frankly to reject the label of flip- flopper. And I don't think he did as much as he needed to do or probably wants to do, but he did, I think, talk about being certain and being wrong. And I bet that's a clip that you'll see on lots of pieces of the news.

The other thing that I thought by the way the president did very interesting is that for people who accused him of often being underinformed, he certainly had a lot of details at his command. Whether he was talking about North Korea, whether he was talking about Iraq, whether he was talking about Russia. This was not a person who was removed from the management of the government.

BLITZER: All right. I want to bring in our Bill Schneider and our David Ensor. They're in Washington. They were watching this together with all of us, but specifically they were looking at the facts. They were specifically looking to see if either candidate was misstating or exaggerating any of the issues that were being discussed

Bill Schneider, first to you, what did you find out?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the one thing that President Bush said was something that John Kerry caught. Take a listen to this statement by President Bush when he was asked a question about whether he would again fight a preemptive war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

I would hope I'd never have to. I understand how hard it is to commit troops. I never wanted to commit troops. I never -- when I was running -- when we had the debate in 2000, never dreamt I would be doing that, but the enemy attacked us, Jim, and I have a solemn duty to protect the American people, to do everything I can to protect us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Now that's important because he was implying in that statement that the United States was attacked by Saddam Hussein or Saddam Hussein was in league with or behind the 9/11 attacks something that Dick Cheney said in his convention speech as well. They attacked us. Well, the 9/11 commission found no evidence that Saddam Hussein was in league with Osama bin Laden or had any role in the 9/11 attacks. Kerry caught that immediately and President Bush's response was, well, I know Osama bin Laden attacked us, but the implication was still very strongly there that the 9/11 attacks were justification for the preemptive war in Iraq.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, stand by. David Ensor, our national security correspondent, you were looking at the factchecking as well. What did you come up with?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, there were a couple of cases as Bill pointed out where they caught each other. When, for example, John Kerry left off Poland as one of the allies that's in Iraq, a minor thing like that, but Bush caught him right away.

But there were more fundamental errors, or at least disagreements there that you could say are errors. Kerry said that Afghanistan is where Osama bin Laden is. And that's where we should have troops. Well, the CIA says they believe Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan. And Pakistan won't let U.S. troops go in. So that's a problem.

He said at one point that WMD, weapons of mass destruction, are crossing the border every day. I'm not sure what he means by that and we'd have to try to find someone who knows.

He said at one point that it was on George Bush's watch that it was during the Iraq war that North Korea got nuclear weapons. In fact, the CIA has said for some years now, and prior to the a Iraq war it believed North Korea might have one or two nuclear weapons. So that predates the Iraq war. So there's some factual problems there.

Then there's the $87 billion. That's a debate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. David Ensor, thanks very much.

We want to talk now to two four star generals, both retired. First General Tommy Franks, who was the commander of the Central Command in charge of the war in Iraq. General Franks, thanks very much for joining us. Your name came up.

General Wesley Clark is standing by as well. We'll speak to him shortly.

General Franks supports George W. Bush. General Clark supports John Kerry. Let me begin with you, General Franks. Senator Kerry said a couple times, you had Osama bin Laden, you had him cornered in Tora Bora, in Afghanistan, but you outsourced that to Afghan warlords, because you were preoccupied with getting a war started in Iraq. A very serious charge leveled by the Democratic presidential nominee suggesting you blew it. You were in charge of that operation. What do you say?

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well, it sounds like -- it's sort of -- Wolf, it sounds like a light beer commercial, you know. It sounds good, but it's less filling. We've spent a lot of time here over the last few months talking about the dots on the page, the intelligence page as we've talked about, intelligence activities leading up to Iraq and what we all believed about weapons of mass destruction and so forth.

The fact of the matter is, that the number of dots on the page at the time when the allegation is that we had, I think, Osama bin Laden surrounded with a thousand of his people at the place called Tora Bora, that was one of a great many dots on a piece of paper at that time.

The fact of the matter is within 72 hours of the time we were receiving reporting on where Osama bin Laden was in Tora Bora, I received similar reporting every place from Baluchistan, to a lake up to the northwest of Kandahar.

The fact of the matter is, that at the end of the day it would be the Afghans who would make -- who would make the choice, who would make the decision about where they go in their country. And so we don't know. I don't know whether Osama bin Laden was in Tora Bora at that time, but I am reasonably sure, as I think the previous commentator was, that Osama bin Laden is not in Afghanistan today, as the Senator said he was.

BLITZER: You think Osama bin Laden today is not in Afghanistan? Where do you think he is, in Pakistan?

FRANKS: Well, I'm not really sure. I think our intelligence services believe he is in -- believe he's in Pakistan. I just rest with a degree of assurance -- and of course, I'm a civilian now. I'm on the outside looking in just like you are, Wolf, and like Wes is, but my bet is he is not being harbored in Afghanistan as he was eight years prior to the time we saw 9/11 erupt.

BLITZER: The other time your name was mentioned in this debate, General Franks, was the miscalculation the president now acknowledges that because you had a brilliant military victory during those early weeks of the war, you didn't really have a game plan to deal with the peace. And as a result, enormous numbers of casualties. The insurgency that we now see has followed. That's a serious question of your military skills going into this war.

FRANKS: Oh, well I'm sort of like a lot of other old retired guys. I don't have my -- I don't have a lot of heartburn with my military skills being questioned. I think the fact of the matter is, that if you read my book, you would find that I mentioned in there a term called catastrophic success, or catastrophic victory. The fact is that any time one sees major combat operations in a war zone completed quickly, it's a good news thing.

Now, on the other side of the coin, one finds that it takes a long time to bring stability into a place where there has been no stability over a long, long period of time. And so I simply take the comment -- take the comment as it came.

I think it is -- I won't say unfair. It's perfectly fair, but it is absolutely inaccurate to say there was not a plan to move Iraq all the way from major combat operations to the point where they can fend for them themselves, Wolf.

The difficulty is that in many cases, some in our media, our national media, built expectations in our country that that would happen much more quickly than I believe we can realistically expect.

BLITZER: General Franks, thanks very much for joining us. Let's bring in your colleague, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, who supports Senator Kerry.

One point that Senator Kerry keeps making about General Shinseki, the retired U.S. Army Chief of Staff, he was really forced out, because he said you needed a couple hundred thousand more troops than the president was willing to commit. But even a year before the war, he indicated he was going to retire at that time. On what basis do you say, General Clark, that General Shinseki was forced out?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET): I think, Wolf, that John Kerry did a brilliant job in the debate tonight and he brought the issues really out to the American people. One of those issues is that this administration really didn't take military advice, and that advice came from a lot of different sources, including Rick Shinseki, who was one of many who said you have to put a lot of troops in, because it's not just how quickly you take down the Iraqi army and occupy Baghdad, it's what you do with the country afterwards.

That advice was not respected. Instead, General Shinseki was basically shunted aside, he was publicly rebuked by the deputy secretary of defense, and his opinions were disregarded and his opinions turned out to be right.

BLITZER: But he retired as scheduled. He wasn't forced out early, was he?

CLARK: Not to my knowledge. No. He did the full four years as army chief of staff. But what Rumsfeld did do to him, he named his successor a full year in advance in a way that basically cut Shinseki's legs out from under him, inside the very sensitive bureaucracy of the Pentagon.

BLITZER: The president also railed against John Kerry for an earlier comment, and I'm paraphrasing now, that the U.S. is engaged in a war -- the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time, and he said how does that make U.S. troops feel on the ground if John Kerry is making that suggestion? What do you say about that?

CLARK: Well, first of all, I agree with the point John has made that the war in Iraq strategically was a mistake, it was a distraction from bolstering our resources on al Qaeda, and the simple truth is we don't have enough resources to do both at the same time and everything else we're expected to do in the world.

But for the troops on the ground, their job is to do the mission they're given. And I want them, and I think John Kerry wants them, to be 100 percent dedicated to that. And they will be, regardless of what the big picture is and the politics of it is.

Those troops are taking the orders of their commander-in-chief. And we want them to believe in the orders that come down the chain of command. And when the electoral process provides America a new commander-in-chief, then we want to be just as loyal to the new commander-in-chief. But everybody respects the great service of the men and women in uniform.

BLITZER: General Clark, thanks very much for joining us.

I want to stay in the spin room over there at the convocation center at the University of Miami. Our Judy Woodruff is inside. Judy, take us inside and tell our viewers what's happening right now?

JUDY WOODRUFF, INSIDE POLITICS: Well, Wolf, I'm in the room that is right next to the room where reporters sat in rows and watched this debate. Right now the room is filled with reporters: print, television, radio reporters. It is also filled with some of the top people from the Kerry and the Bush campaigns.

I've talked to a number of people from both campaigns, Wolf. Everybody agrees here, no knockout punch, no home run, whatever sports analogy you want to use.

But I will tell you this, the Kerry people are feeling pretty good. They say they feel their candidate made some succinct arguments . They are saying that they think that they kept President Bush on the defensive.

The Bush people, of course, are not agreeing that the president was on the defensive, but they also say that nothing dramatic changed in this race. They're not claiming that the president did anything, but they also say that the president didn't need to.

So they're saying the race is where it was. The Kerry people, Wolf, are saying that the -- that John Kerry helped himself tonight, and that he will get some kind of a lift out of this debate.

BLITZER: And you see the signs from the various -- the various surrogates for the candidates in that spin room speaking to reporters trying to tell them what their, of course, side wants to hear. Judy, thanks very much. We'll get back to you. Bill Hemmer is at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He had a very interesting assignment, watching this debate with a group of undecided voters in the key battle ground state of Ohio. Explain to our viewers, Bill, what they saw and how they reacted?

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Certainly will, Wolf. We have 22 undecided voters here in Columbus. I will show you a little device we've been using throughout the night here. These little meters, Wolf, OK? They're numbered 1 through 10. Ten measures the strongest response in a positive way. One is the weakest in terms of a negative sense, and five is neutral, right in the middle there.

We're going to show you two soundbites again that we have selected now from the past 90 minutes. The first is from George Bush, talking about respecting other allies. Watch the lines. The women are in yellow, the men are in blue. And watch the difference when it goes from neutral up towards the area of 6, 7, and even higher after that. Watch here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: You can't expect to build an alliance when you denigrate the contributions of those who are serving side by side with American troops in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: All right. Now that was George Bush talking about that issue. I want to go to Kelly in our audience. Why did you like that when you heard that, Kelly?

KELLY GOOD, PUBLISHING INDUSTRY: Well, I just don't think John Kerry did enough to show me that he has what it takes to fight the war on terrorism. I really trust George Bush's experience, his foreign relations. I think John Kerry -- he more just pointed the finger. I just don't have faith in him.

HEMMER: OK, we watched that meter when you were measuring yours earlier today. Also when John Kerry talked about the wrong war, talking about Saddam Hussein and talking about Osama bin Laden. Watch the meter here now for the senator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Qaeda attacked us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: That was John Kerry. You watched the meter go up. Jon, quickly, what did you like about that?

JON FLORES, INTERNET SALES: I think he was right. The war was a mistake, and I don't think Bush gave us enough evidence of what kind of plan he has to get out of that mess that we're in there.

HEMMER: All right. Jon, thank you for that.

We have a lot more folks here taking a lot of measures and meters throughout the evening here. Twenty-two undecided voters. Very interesting to get their reaction in real time. Wolf, back to you now in Miami there.

BLITZER: All right. Bill Hemmer, thanks very much. Fascinating discussion. Fascinating to watch that meter move real time by those undecided voters.

Let's get some more analysis now. Reaction from two key players in these campaigns. Representing the John Kerry campaign, Mike McCurry, the former White House press secretary, who worked, of course with Bill Clinton. Karen Hughes, former counselor in the White House, worked of course closely, still works closely with the president of the United States.

Mike McCurry, I'll begin with you. Did John Kerry tonight by acknowledging he made a mistake in uttering those words about the $87 billion authorization, did he try to get that behind him? What was the point of that?

MIKE MCCURRY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Wolf, what he said was he spoke about it in a very inarticulate way. That's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The president made a very wrong decision about the...

BLITZER: All right. Hold on, Mike. Hold on. I'm going to interrupt you for a second, because we're getting a little feedback, a little technical problem there. I'll come right back to you.

Let's bring in Karen Hughes. Karen, a few technical points that the president made. I noticed he said, A.Q. Khan, the nuclear godfather of Pakistan, he said, has been brought to justice.

Do you believe that A.Q. Khan, who delivered nuclear materials to North Korea, to Libya, to other countries, has been a brought to justice?

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Wolf, his ability to trade on the black market nuclear materials has been severely damaged and compromised, yes. And I think what the president did tonight, Wolf, is make it very clear that he is the leader who can wage and win the war against terror.

Senator Kerry had one bar to meet coming into this debate, and that is he had to establish some type of credibility on the issue of Iraq. Not only did he fail to do that, but he further undermined his own credibility, saying in one sentence that going into Iraq was a mistake, after he, mind you, had voted for it. But he said it was a mistake, and then he said no, the people who were there weren't dying for a mistake. And so I think the American people got a chance to see for themselves the contradictory nature of Senator Kerry's position.

They also got to see the president's heart and his convictions, his passion, his belief that his most important job every day is to protect the American people from further attack.

BLITZER: But I get back to A.Q. Khan. He's a free man in Pakistan, he was pardoned by President Musharraf. Does that mean he has been brought to justice, after all that he did in circulating banned nuclear equipment around the world?

HUGHES: Well, again, Wolf, what I can tell you about A.Q. Khan is that his ability -- the president has made anti-proliferation a centerpiece of his initiative. The A.Q. Khan network's ability to deliver and trade in nuclear materials on the black market has been shattered. The -- Russia, the United States has signed with Russia a treaty where both of us reduced our nuclear arms. We're working in a multilateral way to try to bring North Korea, to try to ensure a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, after the previous administration, during bilateral talks, allowed North Korea to basically dupe us and gain nuclear weapons.

So on all those fronts the president is working on proliferation and working to make the world safer from the nightmare scenario, which is that terrorists would be able to gain weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: Karen Hughes, thanks very much for joining us. Hopefully, Mike McCurry is still there, we've worked out that technical problem. When he acknowledged the mistake, John Kerry, in the way he phrased the $87 billion authorization to vote against it for troops in Iraq, what was the point of that?

MCCURRY: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) admit that he had made a mistake in the way he talked about that issue, Wolf. And you know, the really surprising to us that President Bush had an opportunity tonight to say, look, things aren't going very well in Iraq and we did make some miscalculations and misjudgments there, but he is so stubbornly arrogant he just sticks with that same formula that he has in talking about the war in Iraq that just defies the reality that we all see on the ground there.

So what we wanted to do tonight was to lay out a very clear alternative (UNINTELLIGIBLE) different way (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: All right. Mike, I am going to have to really apologize the second time. For some reason, we're really having some technical gremlins there. Mike McCurry trying to explain -- I hope our viewers got the gist of what he had so say. Thanks very much, once again. We apologize to Mike McCurry, the Kerry campaign, for that technical hiccup.

Maybe you can explain to us, Jeff Greenfield, the theory behind that whole kind of coming clean, if you will?

GREENFIELD: Lance the boil. It's one of the things that politicians have a very hard time doing and is always effective. When everybody knows you screwed up, finally say, you know what, I screwed up, and he turned it. He said, yeah, I made a mistake in how I described the war, but he made a mistake in going to the war.

And I think it has caused the Kerry campaign no end of problems. And I think he tried tonight largely to say OK, OK, I messed up on this, but it's minor compared to what he did.

BLITZER: Carlos, button this up for us, give us a final thought.

WATSON: A final thought is that for John Kerry, you're pleased that most of the conversation was about Iraq, that it wasn't broadly about terrorism and it wasn't on other issues where you may have been more concerned about, but you focus on Iraq. For the president, you felt your side felt good because you were a good counterpuncher. We go to the spin game. And interestingly enough, the spin game is no longer confined only to print and TV journalists, but now bloggers will play a key role. Talk radio show hosts will play a key role. And also, some of the international perspective on it may filter back to us here in America through Web sites and other methods.

BLITZER: All right, much more coverage coming up. We have to take a quick break, though, right now. We'll be back from the University of Miami, right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The students here at the University of Miami clearly witnessing history tonight, as so many other people around the country, indeed around the world. We're standing by for much more coverage. This note to our viewers: John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, will be a special guest tomorrow morning here on CNN, on "AMERICAN MORNING." Please stay with us for that. I'm going to end our coverage right now here at the campus of the University of Miami. For Jeff Greenfield, for Carlos Watson, for all of our reporters, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Miami. Larry King, though, is standing by to pick up our coverage -- Larry.

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