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U.S. and Iraqi Forces Battling in Samarra; Kerry Makes Polling Headway from Debate; Pulling of Vioxx Drops Merck Stock, Dow With It

Aired October 1, 2004 - 07:00   ET


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One position -- one consistent position -- that Saddam Hussein was a threat. There was a right way to disarm him, and a wrong way...


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): One position? More than one? The plan for Iraq dominates the first presidential debate. We'll look at who Americans think won.

In Iraq, A major battle raging in Samarra. A brigade-sized force trying to take the city from insurgents. And Prime Minister Tony Blair in the hospital for a procedure that will put a wire in his heart. What's next for his political future, all ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING.

COLLINS (on camera): Hello and good morning, everybody.

Last night's presidential debate is the big story this morning. Voters finally got a chance to see the candidates together. Bill Hemmer is in Columbus, Ohio, where last night he participated in a focus group with independent voters.

Well, how did that go, Bill. It was very interesting. We had those little punch card kind of thingy-dingies, right?

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, Heidi. Very interesting, too -- each one had a meter, actually, and they gauged their reaction tot he entire 90 minutes. What was most interesting is how the genders were different, the women and the men. And I'll explain a bit later about what we notice in that focus group.

Also in a moment here, John Edwards is in Columbus, Ohio -- his reaction to what happened last night. And then, Dan Bartlett down in Miami for the Bush campaign will join us, as well.

So, a full slate ahead for us this morning and reaction from last night's debate, Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. We look forward to hearing more about that. Thanks so much, Bill. Also this morning, you know that announcement you hear every time you fly: Turn off your cell phones. Well, what's really going on there. We're going to look a little deeper into those rules and whether they make any sense at all.

Jack Cafferty joining us, always making sense.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I'm not sure about that, but I'm glad it's Friday. Thanks, Heidi. We kind of match up here a little bit, compatible as it were.

I think it was Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" magazine last night who said President Bush showed up at the debates with 35 minutes worth of material for a 90 minute show. And I think there's no question that maybe Kerry won that deal. We're going to look at who's got the right message on Iraq.

But I want to mention this: in "The Cafferty File" at 8:50 this morning, we're going to have a quiz. It's a little bit different thing that we usually do, but it's worth your time and attention, I think, and we hope you'll watch and participate in our quiz at 8:50.

COLLINS: Our quiz -- a quiz on the debates?


COLLINS: That's a surprise. All right, surprise quiz. Got it. Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yeah, pop quiz.

COLLINS: Pop quiz. OK, yeah right.

All right, we're going to check on the stories now in the news this morning with Rick Sanchez. Good morning, Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Almost a morphing of two stories last night. Because even during the debate, there was a very serious offensive taking place in Iraq, and that's where we begin.

Fierce battle still this morning in the Iraqi city of Samarra. U.S. and Iraqi forces stormed into the city overnight, battling hundreds of insurgents for control of the region.

Jane Arraf is there. She's embedded with the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry.


JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At one point, someone came out with a rocket propelled grenade to shoot at the U.S. soldiers, and they fired back. There was a fire attack (ph) in front of the mosque. Soldiers lined up and down the street -- U.S. soldiers. An amazing sight.

This part of the city is absolutely deserted, and this is the worst kind of fighting for American soldiers. Tanks will not go in these narrow streets. They had to proceed on foot. In almost every alley they went through, they were getting shot at.

Despite that, very few U.S. casualties. One person believed to have been wounded. They say they have killed (ph) 94 insurgents and possibly more.


SANCHEZ: Jane Arraf reporting. We should note this is the largest military operation seen in Samarra in several months.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon, a car bomb rattled western Beirut this morning. Firefighters struggled to put the fire out that was caused by a blast. At least one person killed, five others are injured, including a former Lebanese cabinet member. Not clear at this point, we should mention, whether he was actually targeted in this bombing.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is undergoing a procedure on his heart this morning. Mr. Blair arrived at the London hospital just a couple of hours ago. He's there for what he calls a routine procedure to correct a heart flutter. In 15 minutes, Matthew Chance has a live update on Blair's condition and what this could possibly mean for the upcoming British elections.

And a new story just out of Emory Hospital. More than 500 patients are told there that there is a remote chance -- a remote chance, that's the term that's being used -- that they have been exposed somehow to a rare brain disorder. Hospital officials say a woman who underwent a brain biopsy at the facility is being tested for Creutzfeld-Jacob disease. Other patients may have been exposed to the disease throughout surgical equipment. Creutzfeld-Jacob is not a variant, we should add -- not a variant of mad cow disease.

Those are stories we're following for you right now. Let's go back to Heidi.

COLLINS: Yeah, and in fact, we're going to talk about that one a little bit more later. They say one in one million people get it every year. So, we'll find out what exactly is going on there.

All right, Rick, thanks so much.

SANCHEZ: All right, we'll see you in a bit.

COLLINS: We'll check back a little later.

Well, President Bush and Senator John Kerry went head-to-head in their first presidential debate last night in Florida. During the 90- minute faceoff, Kerry accused Bush of, quote, "a colossal err in judgment in his handling of Iraq," while Bush defended his decision to go to war and question Kerry's ability to lead the war on terror.

A CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup flash poll taken just after the debate gave John Kerry a clear edge in the debate. When asked who did the best, 53 percent said John Kerry, 37 percent said Bush. The Iraq issue was front and center at last night's debate. Here now, national correspondent Kelly Wallace.


KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The war in Iraq dominated. Senator John Kerry forcefully trying to put to rest questions about his positions.

KERRY: I made a mistake in how I talk about the war, but the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?

WALLACE: And President Bush repeatedly stressing his opponent was sending mixed messages.

GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. What message does that send our troops? What message does that send our allies?

WALLACE: And that's how it went: 90 minutes strong of back and forth through the moderator.

KERRY: In answer to your question about Iraq and sending people into Iraq, he just said, "The enemy attacked us." Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Qaeda attacked us.

BUSH: Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that.

WALLACE: And the president trying to win the point.

BUSH: Better to have a president who chases these terrorists down and brings them to justice before they hurt us again.

WALLACE: Stylistically, Kerry seemed more at ease. The president appeared a bit angry at times. There were no great one- liners, but a few attempts at humor.

BUSH: I won't hold it against him that he went to Yale.

WALLACE: Even a few moments where they said nice things about each other.

BUSH: I admire the fact that is he a great dad.

KERRY: And I have great respect and admiration for his wife.

WALLACE: And then the focus: their opponent's character flaws. Bush on Kerry...

BUSH: You cannot lead if you send mixed messages.

WALLACE: Kerry on Bush...

KERRY: it's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong.

WALLACE (on camera): No surprise -- each camp says their guy was the winner. But Senator Kerry, behind in the polls, had the most to lose. And initial reaction suggests he put himself back in the game.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, Coral Gables, Florida.


COLLINS: And the next debate between the two candidates will be a town hall format. That's coming up next Friday in St. Louis, Missouri.

Turn things over to Bill now once again. Hey, Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Heidi.

Here in Ohio, the Buckeye State, no Republican has ever won the White House without first winning the State of Ohio. Twenty electoral votes on the line here, perhaps the biggest battle of all the battleground states at this point based on the polling we've watched for the past two months.

John Edwards was here last night for a midnight rally. Later today, he's outside of Dayton, Ohio, the southwestern part of Ohio. A few moments ago, I talked to him for his reaction about what we all watched last night here in Ohio.


What was the most effective argument that John Kerry made, do you believe? Just give me one.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's John Kerry's argument about what's the facts of what's happening in Iraq right now -- our men and women in uniform have been extraordinary, but Iraq is a mess -- and his plan to make it better.

Contrast it with George Bush's unwillingness to even acknowledge that there is a serious problem or that any mistakes have been made. You can't fix a problem if you don't recognize that it's there. And I think that contrast was dramatic.

And people are looking for a plan for success in Iraq. John made clear that he was committed to success and laid out how he intended to get there.

HEMMER: You say, again today, that Iraq is a mess. Yet, John Kerry again last night insists that within six months' time, U.S. troops might be able to start coming home. How is that possible if Iraq is such a mess now?

EDWARDS: Well, what John said -- and he said it, I thought, very clearly -- was: number one, if we do the things we need to do to speed up the training of the Iraqis, to provide for their own security; if we have a new president with fresh credibility that can go to the international community, particularly to NATO, to convince them to get involved in this effort; if we speed up the reconstruction process -- that, over time, we will be able to relieve the burden on American troops.

He didn't give any exact timetable. There is no way to do that. But we do believe if these steps are taken, some of the things that we don't believe are being done right now, that we can do much better than we're doing now and relieve the burden on our troops. And that's what John said last night.

HEMMER: But again, President Bush came back again and the White House came back and said the inconsistencies shown in John Kerry's record have shown through yet again. How much are you concerned with those inconsistencies sticking with voters come November 2nd?

EDWARDS: I think what we saw in John Kerry last night was a strength, a conviction, a vision that we want to see in the president of the United States. I think he looked and sounded like a commander- in-chief.

To be honest with you, I think the American people saw the John Kerry that I know. This man is ready to keep this country safe. He is ready to finish the job and be successful in Iraq. He's prepared, as he laid out very clearly, to find these terrorists, the leaders of al Qaeda and other terrorists, wherever they are and crush them and kill them and keep the American people safe.

Now I think the American people saw a man who is ready to lead them and protect them.

HEMMER: Try an explain this one, because our flash polling suggests last night John Kerry won this debate. But yet, that polling also shows that George Bush is seen as tougher and also is seen as more likable. Does that concern you, with 32 days and counting?

EDWARDS: No. Because it takes time for the effect of seeing somebody for 90 minutes side-by-side, seeing the two candidates side- by-side, to settle in. And I expect that will happen here. It will be over the next weeks that that happens. And by the way, the other two debates will make a difference in that assessment, too.

HEMMER: You have your own debate in five days, Tuesday night in Cleveland, Ohio, here in the Buckeye State, against Dick Cheney. What is it in Dick Cheney's style that has you concerned in your preparations?

EDWARDS: Oh, he's a very experienced debater and a very effective debater. Most folks think he won his debate in 2000, and he's done this a lot. I expect him to be very effective.

The problem, of course, is he has the same problem that George Bush had last night. George bush couldn't explain why Iraq was the mess it is or what he was going to do about it. Dick Cheney confronts the same problem here at home.

I mean, we're going to be talking about, among other things, domestic issues in our debate on Tuesday night. And we've lost, you know -- five million folks have lost their healthcare, and four million people have gone into poverty.

Right here in Ohio, 237,000 jobs have been lost -- one out of every four jobs lost in America in a state that only has four percent of the country's population. And Dick Cheney is in a very, very hard place to try to explain that.

He's a very effective debater. He's a smart guy. And I expect he'll be effective in the debate. But he's got an almost impossible task. That's what George Bush confronted last night.


HEMMER: Again, the North Carolina senator a short time ago. He is here in Columbus, Ohio, in fact, just down the road here from the campus of Ohio State University.

Also in that interview about 45 minutes ago, he believes now the dynamics of this race have changed based on the debate results from last evening. We put that question to Dan Bartlett from the Bush campaign, as well.


Senator Edwards says he believes the dynamics of this race changed as of last night. Do you agree with that?

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: No, actually I don't. Senator Edwards I think can be expected to want to talk well about his partner's representation last night. But I think last night what you saw is what the American people have been seeing for many weeks now, and that is that President Bush has the record, the strategy, and the resolve to win the war on terror.

And again last night, we heard a very conflicted Senator Kerry, who talked about mistakes and trying to say his decisions, his inconsistencies on Iraq were actually consistent -- which is hard to believe -- but also that somebody who is so conflicted I think is going to have a very difficult time convincing the American people that he has a strategy to win in Iraq.

And President Bush has a strategy. We're executing that strategy, and he had I think a very straightforward conversation with the American people about that strategy last night.

HEMMER: I want to get to Iraq again in a moment here about judgment there, but first I'm going to go to these polling numbers that we did last night, the flash poll. I know you believe the president won this debate. Our polling last night suggests otherwise.

Does that concern you? Your reaction to those numbers today are what?

BARTLETT: No, I don't. I think the snapshots on unscientific polls are just that -- snapshots. But again, last night the American people heard very different opinions and visions for the conduct of this war on terror. President Bush is going to fight this war on offense. He talked about how the successes we're having both in Afghanistan, how we're doing the hard and necessary work in Iraq, how Libya has disarmed, how Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are now allies in the war on terror.

President Bush talked very clearly about the enemy we face. And it's a very difficult enemy. But the first part about winning in this war is understanding the enemy we face. And I think last night President Bush demonstrated that he understands the stakes. He understands the stakes in Iraq. He understands the stakes in the broader war on terror.

And that's where a clear difference, because we believe Senator Kerry brings more of a pre-9/11 mindset in which he's conflicted about why we're fighting in Iraq. You can't win in Iraq if you don't know why we're there. And I think Senator Kerry has proven over the last 17 months that he doesn't know why we're there. He doesn't know his own position. And that's not the type of mixed signals you want in a commander-in chief.

HEMMER: Dan, as you well know, today there are a number of reports based on the cutaway shots that were given of the president last night that most of the viewers at home did not see, but the reporters in Miami could. Many people are describing the president today as looking annoyed or bothered. Was he bothered last night?

BARTLETT: Not at all. I talked to him right after the debate, and I talked to him this morning. And actually, he was very pleased and thought it was a good conversation. Sometimes you saw a bemused look by President Bush when he was hearing Senator Kerry try to claim that he has been consistent on the issue of Iraq. I think that many people across the country might have been bemused, as well.

So, no. I think these are people that are trying to overanalyze facial expressions. And President Bush wears his emotions on his sleeves. And I think what you see is what you get. You know where he stands on the big issues. You know how he feels. And you know what he believes. And that's another clear difference in this campaign.


HEMMER: Dan Bartlett, John Edwards from earlier from today in Ohio and Miami, respectively.

Now, last night, we came here to Columbus, Ohio, put together 22 undecided voters -- mostly undecided. And we gave them meters, and we asked them to gauge this debate on their reaction, numbers one through 10, 10 being the strongest positive and one being the strongest negative.

What we found is that the genders are quite different in how they reacted to George Bush and then John Kerry, then George Bush again. And the half hour, Heidi, we're going to take you through what we found last night. So, rather interesting results from our group of 22 here in Columbus.

Also, more debates: next Tuesday in Cleveland, the vice presidents go at it, Dick Cheney and John Edwards; then next Friday at St. Louis for round two of John Kerry and George Bush. And certainly AMERICAN MORNING will be there every step of the way.

Back to New York now and Heidi Collins -- Heidi?

COLLINS: Yes, I hope those audience members had good Nintendo fingers for the meters. All right, Bill. Thanks so much. We'll wait to hear what they had to say. Appreciate that.

Time now for a first check of the forecast. Rob Marciano in for Chad Myers today at the CNN Center with the latest on all things weather. Good morning, Rob. Any trouble spots out there?


COLLINS: Got it. All right, weekend present. Thanks so much, Rob. Talk to you again in a minute.

Still to come, frequent flyers are used to turning off their cell phones when they get on a plane, but that may be about to change. We're going to explain.

Also, the decision to pull Vioxx off the market is costing Merck millions of dollars, but you could be losing out, too. Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business."

And Tony Blair goes to the hospital for a heart procedure, but his critics aren't letting up. Will the war in Iraq be his undoing?

It's all coming up, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the hospital this morning for a -- what they're calling routine procedure on his heart. It's sort of been a heart flutter that he has learned about. He first started experiencing that last year.

So, you see these pictures of him at the hospital. We're trying to get the very latest on how that procedure went, or if it is still going on. And we'll have more on that coming up in just a little while. Once again, though, routine procedure -- apparently going to put a wire into his heart to correct that problem.

Meanwhile, now that Vioxx has been yanked from pharmacies, how much did Merck investors lose yesterday? Andy Serwer "Minding Your Business." We know how much this was worth to Merck, $2.5 billion or so, but what about investors?

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Yeah, that's right.

Well, investors lost tens of billions of dollars yesterday, Heidi. It was like a bomb went off. And after the smoke cleared, Merck was down $12 to $33, a huge drop.

Let's look and see here at what was going on overall with the indexes yesterday and do that. The Dow was down 55 points you can see here. And all the damage done by Merck, Heidi, because you can see the Nasdaq was up a little bit. The S&P was basically flat.

Twenty-seven billion dollars of shareholder value wiped out yesterday. Stock was down 27 percent. Look -- you can see, it's almost hard to see, but there it is...

COLLINS: Oh, man!

SERWER: ... falling off a cliff on the right there. This is the biggest drop in a Dow stock since United Technologies dropped that much three years ago. A couple of mutual funds particularly hard hit. Fidelity Magellan, you lost over half a billion dollars. Vanguard 500 Index, you lost over half a billion dollars, as well. Stock is now at an eight-year low. So, some real, real damage there.

And let's quickly take a look and see what was going on in the month of September because, of course, we ended the month. And again, Merck figures into this one as well, because you can see the Nasdaq and S&P up a little bit, the Dow down a bit. And Merck's drop yesterday was enough to send the Dow in the negative territory for the month.

COLLINS: Man! Can you believe that?

SERWER: So, you can just see the impact of that very, very big story yesterday.

COLLINS: Wow. You got any good news over there?

SERWER: I'll get you some next time.

COLLINS: OK, good. We got to have a little. All right, Andy, thanks so much.

And back now to Bill Hemmer once again. Hey, Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Heidi, thanks.

In a moment, Jeff Greenfield standing by live in Miami. His reaction to the reaction to the reaction last night.

Also in a moment here, the focus group in Ohio: 22 undecided voters. How did they react last night to John Kerry and George Bush? You will find out when we continue, live on the campus of Ohio State University right after this, on this AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: Time now for "The Cafferty File" and the Question of the Day.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, ma'am. This morning, it's being called the cowboy versus the professor. President Bush was the hotter temper; John Kerry the straight A student eager to give the right answer. Bush slammed Kerry for sending mixed messages on Iraq; Kerry said the president went the wrong way with the war in Iraq. Bush said the war will create a safer America; Kerry called it a colossal mistake. Blah, blah, blah, blah and on it went.

Here is the question: Do you think the candidates are delivering the right message about Iraq?

And the e-mail address is being overrun with a mass mailing from all the John Kerry supporters. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but knock it off so that we can get some sort of a variety of opinion. I mean, since 2:00 this morning, I don't know, 10,000 e- mails from the Kerry...

COLLINS: Really?

CAFFERTY: ... camp have come roaring into the CNN mailbox. So, but try and focus on the war in Iraq, see which one of them is making the most sense to you when it comes to that war.

And don't forget that later on in "The Cafferty File," we've got a little quiz coming up. Got a little quiz coming up.

COLLINS: The quiz. Quiz is pending. All right. Very good, Jack, thanks a lot.

And still to come this morning also, we're going to kick off your weekend with some early "90-Second pop," that is. Singer Melissa Etheridge makes the leap to sitcom land. And you might be surprised by her new roommate.

Plus, can the talking fish of "Shark Tale" snuff out John Travolta's flame in "Ladder 49?" Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.



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