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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Debate Winners and Losers

Aired October 1, 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 and welcome to PRIME TIME POLITICS, back in New York City tonight here on the big day, the first big day -- or debate, that is.
It's time to assess who won, who lost, where they go from here. And while the candidates were armed with a bunch of facts, just how factual were they? We will double-check some major points. And the candidates caught off-guard by the cameras, were these the real moments of truth?

We are starting tonight with the questions heard around the country. What did you think about the debate? And who do you think won? Well, in this, the final month of the presidential campaign, there is not much time left to decide. Tonight, we'll look at how the country feels about George W. Bush and John Kerry right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Well, maybe you don't need to listen to the spin-meisters, but just to the crowds at the day-after-the-debate rallies.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a great debate last night.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Did you watch that debate last night?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: That pretty much mirrors the instant polling by major news organizations. In our own CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, 53 percent said Kerry did the best job; 37 percent said the president. Today, the Kerry camp is elated and energized.

JOE LOCKHART, KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: The Bush campaign went in last night telling reporters that they were going to knock John Kerry out of the race, they were going to finish him off last night. It couldn't be further from the truth.

ZAHN: But it isn't all good news for the Kerry campaign. On the question of who would better handle Iraq, President Bush still holds a solid lead over Senator Kerry, as he did before the debate. The Republicans are trying to press home that advantage. DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: 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.

ZAHN: Senator Kerry stayed in Florida today. The president held rallies in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. They debate again a week from tonight, although it sounds like they haven't stopped.

BUSH: The cornerstone of Senator Kerry's plan for Iraq is that he would convene a summit.

(BOOING)

KERRY: This president pushed the folks away from us at the U.N. They actually offered the help. He didn't want to do that.

BUSH: The president's job is not to take an international poll. The president's job is to defend America.

KERRY: I will fight and hunt down and kill the terrorists wherever they are and I'm going to provide America with the ability to do it.

ZAHN: There are only 32 days and two presidential debates left in the race. The final sprint is on.

BUSH: Turn out that vote. Get them headed to the polls and remind them, if they want a safer America, a stronger America, a better America, to put me and Dick Cheney back in office.

KERRY: Let me make it clear to everybody. We have to win every day from now until November 2. And, on November 2, we start to win every day for America.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, about 62.5 million half people tuned in for last night's debate, much better than the pre-debate estimate of some 50 million, but well short of the all-time high of 80 million for the Reagan/Carter showdown back in 1980.

Joining me now, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley in Kissimmee, Florida, with the Kerry campaign, White House correspondent Dana Bash in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the president campaigned today. And with me here in New York, "TIME" magazine Joe Klein, a CNN contributor.

Good to see all of you.

So, Candy, obviously, most of these polls or every poll I've seen today showed that Kerry was the clear winner last night, and yet there are other, more troubling numbers which show he didn't gain traction on the issue of his leadership abilities when it comes to Iraq.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Which is why you get this dual-track reaction from the Kerry campaign.

They found it so hard to disguise their giddiness or their relief or however you want to describe it at John Kerry's performance and how it was perceived that they felt the need to say to us, now, look, we think what we've done is open a conversation, but this won't show up in the horse race numbers. This won't show up in the polling, but what we think we've done is we've gotten people to say, hey, maybe I ought to pay a little more attention to this guy.

So they are at the same time elated by this, because they really did feel that if John Kerry had a poor performance, or George Bush had a boffo performance, that that might have, given George Bush's lead in the polls, pretty much put it away. Kerry is still very much in this game.

ZAHN: Dana, I talked to a number of Republicans today who said that they felt the president lost on style points, but he came through on substance. What were you being told privately, in particular about some of those camera gestures that were caught when he was grimacing when candidate Kerry was talking?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, in terms of the camera gestures, Paula, you heard everything from Bush advisers today, from saying, no, well, he was just pensive, he wasn't angry, well, perhaps he was just perplexed from all the things he was hearing from Senator Kerry that were not really accurate in terms of his record, to somebody just saying, look, he was human.

But the bottom line is, Paula, the Bush campaign knows that this was a potential pitfall for the president. We're told by a senior Bush aide that when they were doing their mock debates, they really tested him. Senator Judd Gregg, who was playing Senator Kerry, and others, really tested him, really pushed him hard to try to explain to him that he had to temper that. So they knew that this is a potential issue.

You see the president when he's sometimes challenged by us, by members of the press corps that he sometimes bristles. And so it's something that they certainly were prepared for. Unclear what will happen this week, whether or not he is going to be looking at some of the tapes. We're going to be following that for sure.

ZAHN: Well, he has got to be looking at those tapes, Joe Klein. That's all anybody's talking about today.

JOE KLEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, absolutely.

And the interesting is, is that he's in the same position now that Al Gore was in four years ago after he sighed and seemed disdainful in the first debate. Now, remember what happened in the second debate? Gore was so conscious of not being disdainful and not sighing that...

ZAHN: That he went too far.

KLEIN: That he seemed lobotomized. And the president has a really tough task ahead of him here. He has to figure out how to control his body language, but also to press the attack on Senator Kennedy . It's hard to do two things at once when you're in a debate, because the tension is so great.

ZAHN: I think you meant Senator Kerry. You said Kennedy.

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: Kerry.

ZAHN: I know. We've all had long days here.

KLEIN: Did I say Kennedy?

ZAHN: I'm giving you a hard time.

Let's about what John Kerry has to do now. The question is whether he can keep the consistency in the performance he had last night in debate No. 2 and 3.

KLEIN: That's right, not only in debate No. 2 and 3, but Kerry's problem throughout this campaign, one of his many problems has been consistency, to have the same message day after day after day.

There is going to be a temptation now on the Kerry side to move to domestic policy issues, which are allegedly the Democrats' favorites. But Kerry has to keep on hammering on the war. He hasn't closed the deal on the war, as those numbers, as those polling numbers show.

ZAHN: So, Candy, what are you to understand is the Kerry strategy right now?

CROWLEY: Well, in fact, they're on yet another dual track.

And that is, they say, look, we're now moving into a time period in the debates where there will be domestic questions. We're going to talk about that and use kind of the same templates, which is to say, this president misled you. He doesn't understand your lives. He's messed this up with big tax cuts, that kind of thing, so using the same template they have used with Iraq about a president who doesn't get it and put it on top of domestic issues.

We said, OK, so that that's end of the stuff about Iraq? No. They fully understand that Iraq is going to be the defining issue of this campaign. But they believe it's not one or the other. They say voters aren't dealing with one or the other. They're dealing with both. And so will we.

So that's their current stance.

ZAHN: So, Dana, I have talked with some folks from the Bush campaign today who are saying, while they wish the president perhaps had done a better job last night, they are very heartened by those numbers which showed that John Kerry didn't get any traction at all on that important leadership question in Iraq. So what are they going to concentrate, the Bush campaign, in the next week or so?

BASH: Well, Paula, certainly you're right.

They're saying that what matters most are the fundamentals, and that credibility, trustworthiness and a plan in Iraq, the president is still fine. But the president still is trying to recover from last night. We saw that today both in Pennsylvania and here in New Hampshire. He almost seemed to answer some of the questions that some Republicans I've talked to and obviously you have talked to statewide and nationally say that he simply didn't do.

He was so focused on calling John Kerry a vacillator and not ready to lead as commander in chief, he didn't perhaps listen to some of the things he was saying. So the president jumped on that today. He is going to be in Ohio tomorrow. He's likely to do that. But next week, just like Senator Kerry, he is going to be focusing on some domestic issues. That's the debate next Friday. He is going to use some of the power of the incumbency, Paula. On Friday, he is going to sign a tax cut bill that helps -- it's marriage penalty and child tax credits.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Joe Klein, last night, you gave us very specific dos and don'ts for both of the candidates. Walk us through what both of them have got to do in the next week before this next presidential debate, where we'll both be, Saint Louis.

(CROSSTALK)

KLEIN: Well, we're going to be focused on the vice presidential debate first, Cheney and Edwards, and I can guarantee in that one, the word Halliburton will be raised more than once, because Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton.

The interesting thing now is this. Bush had a one-track strategy on Kerry, call him weak, wussy, wavering on Iraq, a flip-flopper. Last night, Kerry seemed none of those. He seemed more in command than the commander in chief. And the question is whether that line of attack that has been so successful for Bush is going to continue to work for him.

ZAHN: What do you think?

KLEIN: I think it's going to depend on Kerry's performance. But I think that the president is going to have to deepen and change his line of attack.

ZAHN: We'll be looking for all this on the campaign trail with Candy Crowley, Dana Bash, Joe Klein. Thank you all.

That leads us to tonight's voting booth question. Who do you think won the debate? Log on to CNN.com/Paula. Have your say. The results at the end of the our.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN (voice-over): The candidates have made their case. Now it's up to the jury, undecided voters. What moved them and what left them cold?

Plus, if a picture is worth 1,000 words, these were the words.

BUSH: I'm a pretty calm guy. I don't take it personally.

ZAHN: But these were the pictures, memorable moments, some the campaigns didn't want you to see, and much more, as PAULA ZAHN NOW: PRIME TIME POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Well, if you couldn't tell the difference between the candidates before last night, you should be able to now. President Bush and Senator Kerry both staked out clear ground on the issues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: He misled the American people in a speech when he said we will plan carefully. They obviously didn't. He misled the American people when he said we would go to war as a last resort. We did not go as a last resort.

BUSH: I think what is misleading is to say you can lead and succeed in Iraq if you keep changing your positions on this war, and he has.

KERRY: We would have had sanctions. We would have had the U.N. inspectors. Saddam Hussein would have been continually weakening.

BUSH: And, yes, he would have been stronger had we not dealt with him. He had the capability of making weapons and he would have made weapons.

And of course Iraq is a central part of the war on terror. And that's why Zarqawi and his people are trying to fight us. Their hope is that we grow weary and we leave. The biggest disaster that could happen is that we not succeed in Iraq.

KERRY: Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the president invaded it. I think we need a president who has the credibility to bring the allies back to the table and do what's necessary to make it so America isn't doing it alone.

BUSH: They're not going to follow somebody who says this is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.

When our generals on the ground and Ambassador Negroponte tells us that Iraq is ready to defend herself from these terrorists, that elections will have been held by then, that there's stability, and that they're on their way to a nation of -- that's free, that's when.

KERRY: If we do the things that I've set out and we are successful, we could begin to draw the troops down in six months. BUSH: My concerns about the senator that, in the course of this campaign, I've been listening very carefully to what he says, and he changes positions on the war in Iraq. He changes positions on something as fundamental as what you believe in your core, in your heart of hearts is right in Iraq.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Sharp differences clearly on display last night.

Earlier, I took a closer look at them with Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Do you think Senator Kerry is back in the race with last night's performance?

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: I think he is an the race. Obviously, I'm partisan. I support President Bush, who I thought won the debate. But, apparently, the immediate reaction of folks was that, at least on style, Kerry looked better.

By the way, it's interesting how it looks different on television than in person. I didn't see some of the things that people apparently saw on television. But it does show you the important of the TV as a medium of communication now.

ZAHN: It's kind of hard to ignore the overnight polls of CNN, ABC, CBS, which show the majority of Americans really do believe that John Kerry won the debate. Why do you think they felt that way? What did they see?

KYL: I think it was the style.

Apparently, President Bush looked tired toward the end. I didn't see it, but that's what folks say. And also I did notice that he looked -- he sometimes had a bit of scowl on his face during the time that Senator Kerry was talking. And that can make a big difference.

But I also note that at least one poll that I heard about that said that who do you think won the debate, they thought Kerry won the debate. They said, how are you going to vote? Well, we're still voting for Bush. In other words, it's possible to conclude that Kerry might have done better in the debate, but you still want to vote for the president.

ZAHN: So you don't think the president got hurt by his performance at all last night?

KYL: No, I don't, no.

And, remember, too... (CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Oh, go ahead, Senator.

KYL: Let me just make this point.

I think that John Kerry had a couple of big hurdles to climb over. The president, all the pundits said before the debate, basically was going for a tie. I think he did better than that. But what John Kerry really had to do was, first of all, demonstrate that he's not a flip-flopper. Well, there were a bunch of flip-flops even within the debate last night. I don't think he did that.

And, secondly, did he ever lay out his plan? He said, you could go to his Web site and find it. But the main part of his plan, getting others engaged, I thought the president whipped him on, because the president said you can't very well ask people to join the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.

ZAHN: Let's go back to both of the candidates' plans for Iraq. And I think you have even agreed with previous guests that some of the key parts of the plan are the same in terms of training of Iraqi forces to take up more of the security burden, trying to get more of our allies involved in the process, reducing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil

Do you think the audience really walked away last night with a clear understanding from either candidate about what the key difference is in their Iraqi plan?

KYL: I think the answer is yes and no. I don't think that either candidate laid out the four points or five points of the plan.

I think Senator Kerry had the burden there. And he didn't carry that burden. I think the other part of the answer is, though, that, in terms of a general direction, not the specifics of a plan, but the general approach, the president was clear, as he's always been. He was resolute. We're in this to win. We've got to win. And John Kerry again, said, well, it was mistake, but, no, our troops are not dying for a mistake. There were, again, contradictions within the debate.

ZAHN: The senator maintaining last night that he has been wholly consistent on the issue of Iraq, but that, at times, perhaps he's been inarticulate and has not expressed himself correctly.

But perhaps the most devastating blow he launched against the president last night, that this is a president who is living in what he's called before a fantasy world of spin. Do you think the president has leveled with the American people about what will ultimately be at stake in Iraq for Americans?

KYL: You know, I wonder where critics of the president have been all this time. On at least three or four occasions early on, the president said this is going to be very difficult. It is going to take a long time. We are going to have to be resolute and be prepared to persevere.

He's made that point over and over and over again. And now that it's gone on a while and now that it's hard, people are saying, oh my goodness, this is hard; the president hasn't leveled with us. What they really mean is that I think the president hasn't gotten up every morning and said, let me tell you how many casualties we have suffered today; things are really going to hell in a handbasket; we're losing the war.

Now, is that a way for the commander in chief to, first of all, send a message to allies and to the Iraqi people, let alone inspire his own people to demonstrate to the families of the troops that they are dying for a cause.

And, finally, what kind of a message would it send for an enemy, who is looking for some signals that their challenge to us -- the challenge is, are we resolute or not? They're challenging our will. They are looking for signals as to whether or not they're succeeding. No, that isn't what the president has to do.

ZAHN: Senator, we're going to have to leave it there this evening. Thank you so much for dropping by.

KYL: You bet, Paula. You bet.

ZAHN: Appreciate your time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, the Kerry campaign is no doubt pleased with their candidate's performance, but will it energize his party's base?

Joining me from Eugene, Oregon, veteran Democratic strategist Dan Carol. He was on Bill Clinton's debate team in 1992 and has worked on a number of campaigns.

Before we fast-forward, Dan, let's talk a little bit more about last night. I was talking with Reverend Al Sharpton, a big supporter of John Kerry's. And he said, coming into the debate last night, there was a lot of concern whether he would pull it off or not. Were you surprised by his performance?

DAN CAROL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I wasn't surprised.

But clearly the Kerry campaign had a rough August. And he came in last night and I think he went from senatorial speak to looking presidential. And at the same time, Mr. Bush went from being presidential to a little bit pouty. So I think a lot of people were pleased he delivered the goods. He was crisp in his message. He started to talk about the future and he did really, really well.

And in terms of getting the base motivated, getting people out to work, getting people feeling that this is race and that we can do this, it was very, very critical. So the mood shifted.

ZAHN: So the mood might have shifted, but if you look at another set of numbers, it doesn't seem like this great performance that all his supporters are describing is translating into any real support when it comes to the issue of Iraq.

CAROL: Well, a couple things.

On the polling, with all due respect to my pollster friends, I've suffered through the difficulties of polling. They don't always measure storm surge and changes in voter turnout, whether it was 2002 with the Republican successes now. And I'm seeing statistics from Oregon, Ohio, Iowa, where three, four, five times new registrations are going to the Democratic camp. These people are going to get out to vote. We have an unprecedented operation up and down in states to get people out to vote. And I don't think they're measuring that.

So our message has been, forget the polls. Do the work. And last night, we saw a candidate that is speaking to the future, that is starting to paint a president who is out of touch with what's on the ground in Iraq and then talking about a plan. Maybe it's not the perfect plan, but what is Mr. Bush's plan?

ZAHN: But if John Kerry's going to win this race, he has got to win the Electoral College. And we are going to put up on the screen now our latest estimate how the electoral vote looks. And you mentioned a couple of states where you think John Kerry is doing better.

But if you look at the state of Iowa, Wisconsin and New Mexico, these are states that Gore narrowly won in 2000. It doesn't look so hot for John Kerry right now. How can he turn these numbers around?

CAROL: Well, again, the polls are based on samples. And what is not being measured, they all assume a certain level of voter turnout. And voter turnout is at historic levels, young people who are worried about the draft. I work with scores of groups and all of them are registering their people.

For years, the dirty little secret on the progressive side, on the Democratic side, is we'd match membership lists against the voter registration rolls and half the people that should be natural voters for liberal, progressive Democratic causes were not registered. That's different now. We have various groups that are doing unprecedented work in the field, three, four million new registrants.

I think our folks are very motivated. And whether you want to call it anybody but Bush, and then you add a candidate who has a plan, we've not even gotten to where we're going in this country on energy independence, on the economy, on health care. If George Bush could maybe get a draw last night with a scowl, I think our folks are going to be very excited in the next couple of debates.

ZAHN: Well, it is certainly going to be an interesting ride between now and Election Day. Dan Carol, thanks so much.

CAROL: Sure. Thanks for having me.

ZAHN: Our pleasure. Both candidates made plenty of points last night using what seemed to be facts and figures. We're going to see how they stand up to a fact check when we come back.

But, first, the debate from the left and the right side of talk radio today.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE RANDI RHODES SHOW")

RANDI RHODES, HOST: I think last night, what they had in mind was show Kerry could be president of the United States right now. And that's what they attempted to do and they did it. They achieved it. And it really did not only do that, but it did another thing. It made George look like, how could this guy be president, which was a huge problem for them.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE NEAL BOORTZ SHOW")

NEAL BOORTZ, HOST: I don't think John Kerry made an excellent point in the whole evening. But he had the style. He was more erudite than George Bush, more composed than George Bush, more confident than George Bush. And I think it allowed him to carry the evening.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Well, in any debate, the truth is bound to suffer. Last night was no different.

Joining me now from Washington to fact-check the candidates' statements on Iraq, terrorism and diplomacy, national security correspondent David Ensor, senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre, and State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel.

Welcome.

We have a lot of ground, team, to cover tonight in a short time. So I'm putting all of you on the clock, like the candidates' last night. When the signal at the bottom of the screen flashes red, your time is up. You're all getting dissed if you go over your time limit. Got it.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: All right, Jamie, you get to go first.

Some people say Osama bin Laden could have been caught if the president had done his job right and kept his eye on the ball.

Here is what Senator Kerry said last night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: And when we had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, 1,000 of his cohorts with him in those mountains, with American military forces nearby and in the field, we didn't use the best trained troops in the world to go kill the world's No. 1 criminal and terrorist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: True or false, Jamie? A reminder, the clock is running.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, this one is what Defense Secretary Rumsfeld would call unknowable.

It's true that a lot of people here believe that bin Laden was cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, but the intelligence was inconclusive. And as for whether pouring more U.S. troops into the rugged mountains, instead of using the Afghans, who knew the territory like the back of their hand, would have resulted in his capture, well, it's possible, but certainly not a slam dunk.

ZAHN: I think you could be a presidential candidate. You got the end of that answer in before the red, the little signal turned red.

MCINTYRE: All right.

ZAHN: Andrea, President Bush promised that Iraq would hold elections in about four months. Here's exactly what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: There will be elections in January. We're spending reconstruction money. And our alliance is strong. That's the plan for victory. And when Iraq is free, America will be more secure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: So, Andrea, the question is, can elections really happen in Iraq in January? You've got 30 seconds.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Oh, of course they can happen in January. But the question, Paula, is what kind of elections will this be?

And we heard Rumsfeld and Prime Minister Allawi last week lowering the bar already, saying, they could be imperfect elections. Well, the fact is, will Iraqis accept the results of those imperfect elections if they go forward and will the international community? You have got two significant hurdles, security, which is a big concern. And, secondly, you have the mechanics of laying the groundwork for these elections, getting polls up and running, getting workers there. Oh, no, I ran over!

ZAHN: You ran out of time. We'll bring you back on another night. But we got -- we got the gist of what you're saying there, Andrea.

We wanted to give the audience a sense of how maddening it must have been for both those candidates, not only to think on their feet, to make sure they hit a time cue.

So on to David now. The president claimed that China would be alienated if the United States unilaterally talked with North Korea about the threat of nuclear weapons. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I can't tell you what a mistake I think that is to have bilateral talks with North Korea. It's precisely what Kim Jong-Il wants. It will cause the six-party talks to evaporate. It means that China is no longer involved in convincing, along with us, for Kim Jong-Il to get rid of his weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: David, is he right? True or false?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, he obviously believes it, but the experts I've spoken to say he's not right.

In fact, we checked today, and the Chinese government, at least twice, has publicly stated that it favors bilateral talks between the United States and the North Koreans and clearly would go on talking in the six-party talks and putting the kind of pressure that only China can on North Korea, even so.

So the short answer's no; he's not right.

ZAHN: You made your time limit. I'll even give you the five seconds back for your next question.

David, I have one more for you. Senator Kerry accused the president of cutting money spent on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, and he promised to do better than the president.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: At the current pace, the president will not secure the loose material in the Soviet Union -- former Soviet Union for 13 years. I'm going to do it in four years, and we're going to keep it out of the hands of terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Can he do it, David? True or false?

ENSOR: You know, the experts are a little divided on this. But I've talked to quite a few today, including some who support Kerry who don't believe this can be done in four years. They say the task is simply too large. They point out that over the years, the last few years, the Russians have not always been that cooperative. And getting these loose nukes safely secured depends on Russian cooperation.

Plus, you might have to build facilities that some of these experts think would take some extra years. So the short answer is, no, Kerry's not right.

ZAHN: You are so good on that time cue.

Now Jamie, both the president and Senator Kerry agree that part of the solution for getting out of Iraq is to turn over security to the Iraqis. The president said that is already well under way.

Let's listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The best way for Iraq to be safe and secure is for Iraqi citizens to be trained to do the job. And that's what we're doing. We've got 100,000 trained now, 125,000 by the end of this year, over 200,000 by the end of next year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Jamie, are those numbers right?

MCINTYRE: There's a big dispute, Paula, about whether the Pentagon is overstating the number of Iraqis that are truly combat ready.

But the general who's in charge of the training, very respected general, General Petraeus, insists that 100,000 is the right number out of 164,000 in Iraq.

And the bottom line, the Pentagon says, is that Iraqi forces are actually fighting and dying in greater numbers in some cases than the U.S. forces. Just yesterday, 2,000 Iraqi troops took part in a major operation to retake Samarra from insurgents. And the Pentagon says the equipment is getting better all the time.

All right. And vote for me.

ZAHN: Bye-bye, Jamie. It's all over for you.

Andrea, one of Senator Kerry's big points is that he would get allies to help more in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let's listen to his own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: I think we need a president who has the credibility to bring the allies back to the table and to do what's necessary to make it so America isn't doing this alone. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Andrea, is that realistic?

KOPPEL: Well, European diplomats and senior U.S. officials I've spoken to, Paula, say that in fact President Bush provides them the perfect cover. In particular with France and Germany, which really don't want to offer up troops, no matter who is in the White House.

And so, if Kerry wins, there goes the fig leaf. And the concern is that they're going to want to start a new chapter with a new president. And they're not going to want to say no, but they probably will in the end.

I hope I came in under time.

ZAHN: I am so glad I didn't have to dis my sister for a second time tonight. Way to go, Andrea.

All right. Honest answer, guys: did you feel like you were part of a game show tonight or did you feel like you could be a presidential debater?

KOPPEL: I did. What's the prize, though?

ZAHN: I'm not sure. We haven't figured that out yet.

ENSOR: I was terrified of the buzzer.

ZAHN: You are?

MCINTYRE: The prize is you get to go home at the end of the night.

ZAHN: Jamie -- Jamie's so used to giving his reports this way. You didn't seem to have any problem with it at all.

Jamie McIntyre, David Ensor, Andrea Koppel, thanks for covering some very serious topics in a lighter way for us this evening.

For all the rules, rehearsals and training before the debate, there are always those unplanned, unguarded moments. Smirks, quirks, what they mean for the candidates, coming up.

Also, remember tonight's voting booth question, who do you think won last night's presidential debate? Vote now at CNN.com/Paula.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: So what is in a smile anyway, or a sigh or funny face? Perhaps a lot.

The Democratic Party's web site has already posted a collection of President Bush's smirks, sighs and impatient looks during John Kerry's answers last night. The effect, no doubt as intended, is pretty unflattering. A look at our own tape shows that while Senator Kerry was usually more disciplined about looking down and taking notes during the president's answers, cameras also caught him smiling and grinning even during serious answers.

We're going to turn our cameras on Republican strategist Mike Murphy and Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, both in Los Angeles. Watch the cutaways tonight, guys. Welcome.

All right, Mike. So the Democrats are having a field day with all of the president's expressions last night. The Republican campaign telling us today, it's no big deal, the president knew the cameras were on him all the time.

You're not going to tell me that smirk made the president look good last night, are you?

MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, that smirk was part of a cleverly constructed plan, Paula...

ZAHN: No!

MURPHY: ... we had to lure the Democrats into a false sense of security.

Look, the fact is I'm amazed that the DNC is so dumb that they took what I think, on the snake oil side, was a pretty good performance by Kerry and are going to squander it now with cheap shots about freeze frames of the president looking funny. This just shows how haunted they are by Gore's screw-up last time. They need to get off and sell their guy.

So I think this is a one day thing.

ZAHN: But let's talk about the substance, though, for a moment, Mike.

MURPHY: Absolutely. That's what we ought to be doing.

ZAHN: And the substances, if you look at all the quickie polls done -- the one done by CNN, the one done by ABC and CBS -- they show that Kerry was the clear cut winner.

MURPHY: I think there are two things you measure a debate on.

On the serious foreign policy issues, I think Kerry scared the heck of a lot of people, particularly on Korea, with some very dumb policy ideas. But I'll give him this. On the snake oil side of it, he did well enough to clearly put himself back in the race.

ZAHN: Bill, he isn't biting on the cutaways, is he there?

BILL CARRICK, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, he isn't biting on the cutaways. But the worst part was the president's performance on the policy. In fact, when he even suggested that the reason that we were going into Iraq was to attack Saddam Hussein for the 9/11. I think he had a very poor night on the policy.

The president looked shaky. He looked confused, and a couple of times, he was literally speechless. I think it was rough night for the president, and it was a rough night on the substance.

John Kerry was more articulate. He was more personable, and he also looked more like a president.

ZAHN: Mike, I know you want to spin this all wildly tonight.

MURPHY: Me? Never.

ZAHN: But can you tell me that you were 100 percent satisfied with the president's performance last night?

MURPHY: I think the big point is, I'm willing as a Republican to say Kerry got himself back in the race last night. He had to have a decent performance, or his campaign would have been over, and he had a strong enough performance -- I think the polls show it -- that he's back in the hunt and we're going to have quite an October.

ZAHN: Bill, jump in there.

CARRICK: I'll tell you what, Paula. I think the worst part of the president's performance was he didn't look like he wanted to be there. He didn't look like he wanted to be held accountable for his policies. He looked like he was ready to bolt. And he didn't want to talk about it. And he literally ran out of material.

ZAHN: Mike, why did the president repeat certain key phrases over and over again?

MURPHY: Because they're true. The campaign is not about verbal card tricks. Kerry is the guy who's spinning so fast he's going to screw himself into the floor. He had seven positions on the Iraq war. He was for it until he was against it. His positions are linked to politics.

The president's positions are linked to what's in the national security of the United States. And it doesn't take 90 minutes of verbal trickery to explain that.

ZAHN: Let's talk about the battle of the cutaways now with Bill. It's not like John Kerry looked perfectly presidential throughout the 90 minutes. Were you uncomfortable with -- his chilly smile during some very serious answers on the president's part?

CARRICK: They don't do this every day, so they're not going to be perfect. And neither one of them are talented, you know, television actors. So the truth is, they're both going to get better in the cosmetics of it.

But I think the essence of Kerry's superiority last night was he took hit to president and he tried to make him accountable for his policies, particularly the mismanagement of the war in Iraq.

ZAHN: But Bill, in spite of the fact that these overnight polls showed overwhelmingly, Americans thought Kerry won the debate, you've got to be a little troubled by these numbers, showing that more people still thought Bush would be a better commander in chief, almost unchanged from before the debates.

So if winning the debate didn't do it for candidate Kerry, what's going to turn around these numbers?

CARRICK: Well, I think first of all, this debate by design of the Bush campaign was on foreign policy, the first debate. Senator Kerry held his own on the president's home court, if you will. And I think he wasn't going to surpass the president in that, because after all, the president has a job.

But he was going to close the gap, and I think that was an important thing that happened last night. And now we're going to move on to two other debates that will probably focus much more on domestic policy.

ZAHN: Mike, you get the last word tonight.

MURPHY: Yes. Quickie polls are like quickie brain surgery, not to be trusted. That said, the performances where Kerry gets his kudos, being strong, steady and reliable is where the president gets is his kudos, and that will be what reelects him in this campaign.

ZAHN: Sure is going to be fun to watch the next two with you guys. Mike Murphy, Bill Carrick, thanks.

CARRICK: Thank you.

ZAHN: Whether the candidates are off their game or at their best, it's the voters who will make the final call. Some revealing reactions from undecided voters in a must-win state right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As you've already seen tonight, according to the polls, Senator Kerry won the first debate. But does that mean he's won over the undecided voters who could be the key to this election?

Well, our Tom Foreman watched the debate with eight people who were at our town hall meeting in Canton, Ohio, back in August. And last night was enough for some of our undecideds to finally make up their minds.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the battleground town of Canton, in the wake of the first debate, Paul Gara (ph) has made up his mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will vote for George Bush.

FOREMAN: What convinced to you go that way?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mainly, I didn't hear anything different from Senator Kerry last night. I thought he did -- I thought he did a fine enough job of expressing his viewpoints. I don't agree with his viewpoints.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Canton, Ohio...

FOREMAN: Six weeks ago we gathered hundreds of Ohio voters here for a town meeting. Dozens, like Paul, were undecided at the time, with questions for both campaigns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Bloom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you. Come on in.

FOREMAN: So for the first debate, we asked eight of them to watch and share their thoughts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Halliburton. Yes, let's talk about Halliburton.

FOREMAN: Most showed up not as undecided as they were six weeks ago. And as the debate progressed, Kerry had a clear lead in the room.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John Kerry was incredible. I was -- I felt some of that passion that I've been waiting for from him.

JENNIFER FITCH, VOTING FOR JOHN KERRY: I was considering Nader, but I feel impassioned for Kerry now. I'm behind what he's saying. And I think, yes, he is right; these are the right principles. And I'm going to vote for him because it's the right thing.

FOREMAN: Certain moments brought quick reactions. Marie Moss (ph) said she voted for President Bush last time but when she heard this...

BUSH: I believe I'm going to win.

FOREMAN: She was very displeased.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has a reputation of being arrogant and pompous, and he just showed that right there.

FOREMAN: Others listened closely as Senator Kerry explained his support and criticism of the war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's saying it was a mistake. And now we have to fix it.

FOREMAN: The senator's plans to get help in Iraq from other nations drew skepticism.

CHAD ROBINSON, UNDECIDED: I don't know how he's planning on doing that. He will not get the French to commit any troops. That would be political suicide for the French prime minister, I believe it is. He's not going to get Germans to commit any troops.

FOREMAN: By the end Paul Gara (ph) and Zandi Bloom (ph) had their own debate over how deep political divides here may hurt the war effort.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We underestimate how much damage that does overseas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who divides the country? People just don't stand around and s, "I want to be divided." It's the issues, and it's the leadership.

FOREMAN: This morning at her workout, Zandi (ph) remained committed to Kerry. Her husband, Joe, however, is still at least a little open.

JOE BLOOM, UNDECIDED: I don't think last night really changed my -- too much of my opinion on Kerry, even though the spin goes that he did real well in the debate.

FOREMAN (on camera): You're still considering George Bush?

BLOOM: Yes. I think that's a possibility.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The one person who left the debate undecided was Chad Robinson. But by morning, he was leaning, too.

(on camera) So which way are you leaning now?

ROBINSON: Actually, I'm leaning more towards Kerry now. I am. The more I thought about it, I think it's time for a change.

FOREMAN (voice-over): He still wants to watch the other debates and may yet change his mind, but he is a little farther down the road toward making his vote final.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And that's why the rest of this campaign is going to be so darn exciting to watch.

That was our Tom Foreman, reporting for us tonight.

Next week has the potential to make some really big waves in the campaign. Tuesday, our special coverage of the only debate between Vice President Cheney and Senator John Edwards gets under way at 8 p.m. Eastern from Cleveland.

Then one week from tonight, the second presidential debate in St. Louis. And again, our special live coverage begins at 8:00 p.m.

And then over the next few weeks I will be moderating live town hall meetings in four key battleground states: October 7 from Racine, Wisconsin; a week later, October 14, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania; October 21 in Clark County, Ohio; and then on November 1, the night before the election, in the Orlando, Florida, area. Well, so much now for the serious side of politics. The magic moments from the debate. The laugh's on them right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Well, you've got to admit, we live in an age of instant and exhaustive analysis. But if you think the Bush-Kerry debate has been sliced and diced and picked apart in every possible way, you are wrong.

Jeanne Moos looks back at the debate her way and hands out a few awards.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): OK, gentlemen, shake hands and come out squinting and head shaking and rubbing.

KERRY: I'd have made a better choice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's horrible.

MOOS (on camera): But you're a Bush supporter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, I know. Stand erect; don't make the faces.

MOOS (voice-over): President Bush gets the award for most blinking per answer while some say Senator Kerry...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Showed his teeth too much.

MOOS: Picky, picky, picky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush sounded like one of those dolls where you pull the cord.

MOOS: The most overused phrase award goes to the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, he said that it's hard work. It's hard work what we're doing.

BUSH: It's hard work.

It is hard work.

And it's hard work.

I understand how hard it is.

MOOS: John Kerry was hard at work, constantly scribbling notes, as Jon Stewart noted.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": What was he writing?

GRAPHIC: I'm so crushing him. MOOS: As for the rules...

JIM LEHRER, PBS, MODERATOR: No hissing, no booing, no cheering, no crying, no laughing.

MOOS: The high school principal award goes to moderator Jim Lehrer.

LEHRER: If for some reason there is some noise, I'm going to stop the debate, and I'm going to turn around and hold you up to public ridicule.

MOOS: The candidates were kept from going overtime by flashing warning lights. The moderator never had to resort to the sound you never heard.

LEHRER: Now, that's power, right? OK.

MOOS: No, this is power. This was the overtime gong at a presidential debate in Times Square, just hours before the real one, featuring puppets from the Tony Award winning musical "Avenue Q."

MOOS (on camera): Senator, may I touch your hair?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you may. It needs a little smoothing.

MOOS (voice-over): At the real debate, puppet was a dirty word.

BUSH: One of his campaign people alleged that Prime Minister Allawi was like a puppet.

MOOS: At least at the puppet debate, no one can roll their eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a girly-man he is. He's -- he's a puppet of the liberal left.

MOOS: The girly factor came into play back at the real debate. We call this the "who needs Viagra?" exchange.

BUSH: And you cannot wilt under that pressure.

KERRY: I have no intention of wilting. I've never wilted in my life.

MOOS: Which brings us to the Al Gore and Tipper memorial kiss award, which goes to the Kerrys, who almost got carried away.

The most enigmatic sign award goes to this three-letter word, displayed to the cameras of a rival network.

And don't pooh-pooh the superficial fashion moment award. It goes to the candidate's wives, seen comparing their matching white outfits, while the rain soaked puppets took pity on the press.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wipe off your lens. You're all wet. For gosh sakes. Look at that. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Thanks to our original Jeanne Moos.

We are back in a moment with the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight on "NEWSNIGHT", you can look at the polls or you can look at the bookmakers. Join Aaron Brown in Las Vegas and find out how the odds makers think the election will turn out. That's on "NEWSNIGHT" tonight at 10 Eastern.

Now for the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question. We asked you who won the first presidential debate. Twenty-one percent said President Bush; 71 percent said Senator Kerry; eight percent of you said they were evenly matched.

Again, this is not a scientific poll, just a sampling of those of you who vote on the web site. We appreciate your input. We're going to keep on asking you questions every night, and we hope you keep on answering them.

We're very much happy that you could join us tonight. Next week, a week after a month of attacks and insults, Cheney and Edwards debate. How nasty can it get? We'll have everything you need to know about that on Monday.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. For all of us here, have a good night and a very nice weekend.

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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