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Post-Debate Analysis

Aired October 5, 2004 - 22:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": The vice president of the United States, the Democratic wannabe vice president of the United States and their families up on the stage here at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The vice president and his grandchildren, the Democratic vice presidential candidate with his children as well. Their supporters coming up on the stage.
Let's get right to Jeff Greenfield. Jeff, what do you think?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Let's take a look at what we were looking for and see what happened tonight. Our first question was, what is Cheney's target? Here there's no question, his target is John Kerry and his alleged lack of credibility, one of the toughest lines of tonight, if he can't stand up to Howard Dean and changing his votes on the war in Iraq, Cheney alleged, how could he stand up to al Qaeda?

Now a more intriguing answer to the question what was Edwards' target? It wasn't so much President Bush as it was the administration and what he said was their failure to level with the American people. Again and again John Edwards kept saying, folks, this is the truth. These are the facts.

And the third question, does Iraq equal the war on terror? As we mentioned earlier, this is going to be the debate that will continue through the rest of the presidential election and might define it. If the country believes Iraq was part of the war on terror, Bush is much more likely to win unless they believe it was a diversion.

I think I can tell you, Wolf, that the conservatives who were decidedly unhappy with George Bush last week were happier with Dick Cheney tonight. The Democrats, the pro-Kerry people were perfectly happy with John Edwards. My sense -- and you know how much I hate predictions, is that this debate may come out much more evenly in the coverage and in the polls than the first one, which really tees up the town meeting in St. Louis on Friday as perhaps the key moment.

BLITZER: Because I think it is clear that if you're a Bush/Cheney supporter, you certainly thought Cheney won. If you're a Kerry/Edwards supporter, you thought Edwards won. Whereas in the first debate even if you were a Bush/Cheney supporter, you probably thought the president didn't necessarily win.

GREENFIELD: Because what Cheney gave his supporters was the kind of red meat that they felt the president didn't. When he said, look, Kerry has no record on credibility and you can't win a war on terror this way. For the Kerry/Edwards supporters on the domestic front, the attack on the administration's record on jobs and on poverty was probably the part that they felt that they scored the highest in.

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in Carlos Watson. Carlos, what did you think?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought it was a great debate. It was very interesting, very substantive. They covered a wide array of topics. Everything from AIDS to Iran to the global test issue that you heard about earlier. I think that Jeff is right. I think that if you're a Cheney supporter, you were happy, if you're an Edwards supporter, you were happy. But Wolf, I think in the first half when they talked about terrorism and they talked about national security issues, I think Edwards landed some real blows. I think if you're an undecided voter or even, frankly, if you're a soft voter, I think you will take another look on Friday at what John Kerry has to say. I think the vice president and John Edwards both did their jobs but I think Edwards probably did a better job with persuadable voters.

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in the campaign managers from both campaigns. Mary Beth Cahill is here. She's the campaign manager for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. Ken Mehlman is here, he's the campaign manager from the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Mary Beth Cahill, I'll begin with you. I thought one of the strongest lines that Cheney made, delivered against John Edwards when he says that John Edwards had a record in the Senate he says the last six years that is not very distinguished. What is very distinguished of John Edwards' record in the U.S. Senate?

MARY BETH CAHILL, KERRY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: You know, I think that John Edwards showed tonight a great deal of strength and conviction. And I think seeing him, the American people know that he's ready to step forward and to lead this country if necessary. I think it was very clear why John Kerry chose him as his vice presidential running mate. He spoke movingly about the needs of the middle class in this country. And he talked about the need to end the war in Iraq. I think that people looking at him found him tremendously convincing. And I think that that is something that is going to work really well for us as we head toward the election.

BLITZER: You've worked in the Senate for many years. You worked for Senator Kennedy. Is there one specific piece of legislation that John Edwards helped get passed that he claims credit for that you think has made a difference for the American people?

CAHILL: You know, I think that John Edwards served with distinction during his time in the Senate. I think that he is a person who uniquely embodies the aspirations of the middle class and the people in this country striving to get into it. And so I think that he is someone that people know will take their concerns to heart and thus he's a great person to have on our ticket. And he would be a great leader for the country.

BLITZER: Mary Beth Cahill, do you think this was a pretty evenly divided, evenly matched debate as opposed to the first one where your candidate John Kerry seemingly did a lot better?

CAHILL: No, actually, I think that John Edwards did tremendously well here. I think that Vice President Cheney came across as sort of grumpy and angry. I think that John Edwards was substantive and ranged widely around all kinds of issues. I think it was an interesting discussion, but I think that John Edwards came off by far the better.

BLITZER: All right. Mary Beth Cahill, thanks very much for joining us. Ken Mehlman is the campaign manager for the Bush/Cheney campaign. I thought one of the most effective lines that John Edwards had against the vice president was when he said he came into office promising to be a uniter not a divider but this country right now is about as divided as it's been in recent years. Why is it so divided? Why has the president in effect, according to John Edwards, so divided this country?

KEN MEHLMAN, BUSH CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, Wolf, I disagree with John Edwards on that. I think that our country is united in a war on terror. We came together to pass education reform. We came together to help revive our economy. Wolf, here's what I think you saw tonight. The vice president did a fantastic job. He talked about the issues in an articulate way. He showed he had class. And when it comes to John Edwards, I would respectfully disagree with Mary Beth. They hired the best lawyer they could in America to be their vice president. And even he couldn't defend a Kerry record. Even he couldn't defend 30 years of being wrong on defense. Even he couldn't explain if you can't stand up to Howard Dean, how can you stand up to the terrorists. And even he couldn't explain why you can say on the one hand you're for middle class tax cuts and then you miss the votes on it. I thought it was a great debate and I thought the vice president won.

BLITZER: But it's clear that you thought the vice president won. It is clear that Mary Beth Cahill thought that the senator won.


BLITZER: But what about the whole issue of this being the first president in 70 years to emerge from his first administration, first president in 70 years to have a net job loss? A net job loss. You've got to go back to Herbert Hoover to find a president with a record on job creation like that.

MEHLMAN: Wolf, when I heard that attack from Senator Edwards, I thought the same thing when he talked about Saddam Hussein. And that was it's almost as if he has a total pre-9/11 world view. We lost a million jobs in the three months after September 11. That's why we've lost jobs. We've created 1.7 million in the last year. And we're going to continue to work to create jobs. But the same reason that Kerry/Edwards is wrong on national security is the reason they're wrong on the economy, because on each of these issues they have a world view that is pre-9/11 that won't make our economy right and it certainly won't protect our nation. That's what you heard John Edwards, as great as a lawyer as he is, unable to defend tonight.

BLITZER: Ken Mehlman, thanks very much for joining us.

A lot of facts, a lot of statements were made in the course of this 90-minute plus debate. Bill Schneider was with a team of CNN reporters, producers, experts, looking at some of those facts. He did an initial fact check. Bill, what did you find out?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let's just take one clear dispute over a fact. The number is 90 percent. Edwards used it in reference to the percentage of casualties borne by the United States and the percentage of the cost of the war. Let's listen to precisely this dispute between John Edwards and Dick Cheney.


SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, we've taken 90 percent of the coalition casualties. American taxpayers have borne 90 percent of the cost of the effort in Iraq. And we see the result of there not being a coalition. The first Gulf War cost America $5 billion. We're at $200 billion and counting.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT: The 90 percent figure is just dead wrong. When you include the Iraqi security forces that have suffered casualties as well as the allies, they've taken almost 50 percent of the casualties and operations in Iraq which leaves the U.S. with 50 percent, not 90 percent. With respect to the cost, it wasn't $200 billion. You probably weren't there to vote for that. But the $120 billion is in fact what has been allocated to Iraq.


SCHNEIDER: Now, Edwards was talking specifically about coalition casualties in Iraq. And 88.5 percent of coalition deaths have been Americans. Cheney is changing the base of that calculation to include Iraqi security forces that were lost. But Edwards is talking about the coalition of countries that went into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein's government of which indeed over almost 90 percent of the losses were Americans.

Now about that 90 percent cost figure. Edwards said we're at $200 billion and counting. That's not quite true. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that the cost has been $120 billion through September 30. The $200 million figure includes money for the next fiscal year through September of 2005 including funds that were earmarked for Afghanistan. So there I think Cheney's criticism may have been more on target -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Bill Schneider will be spending a lot of time together with our team looking at a lot of the statements that were made in the course of this debate. And, of course, throughout tonight and tomorrow and the days to come we'll be reporting to you our fact checking as well.

Let's bring in our correspondents who were watching, Candy Crowley, John King. John, I'll begin with you this time. Give us your bottom line assessment, what we saw, what we heard. JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Jeff Greenfield mentioned at the top of the program post debate, the most effective line from the Bush/Cheney standpoint is if you can't stand up to Howard Dean, how can you stand up to al Qaeda. The vice president, I think Republicans are already saying after this debate, doing a better job than his boss, the president of the United States, trying to take the record of Senator Kerry in the Senate, the record of Senator Edwards in the Senate.

There are statements that the Bush campaign says are conflicting about the Iraq war and other issues in the war on terrorism and both defend the president's policy while saying the Democrats aren't qualified and trying to trace all of the president's decisions now. Maybe you disagree with the war in Iraq, part of the vice president's case, but this president has a post 9/11 mind-set. I think the Republicans will leave tonight saying that the vice president did a much better job than the president did in making that pivot. Explain and explain defend the president's mind-set, then attack the Democrats as unqualified to be commander in chief.

And on those other issues, whether it be taxes, whether it be health care, I think we saw tonight what are the substantive differences between these two campaigns. Those of course, will carry forward now in the two remaining presidential debates. And Vice President Cheney did try to suggest that perhaps the president sees matters now a bit more than it has in the past because of the terrorist threat, because of the ongoing war on terrorism. The vice president trying to make the case that his experience should matter more to voters, that he's more qualified to be a heartbeat away.

BLITZER: Let's bring in Candy Crowley. Give us your take.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think certainly during the first hour of it when we is centered a lot on Iraq, it was almost like watching the presidential debate only with the understudies. We heard all the same arguments obviously that number ones on the tickets had made. Clearly they got into other things. And I suspect were testing out some of the arguments that the top of the tickets will try when they move into domestic issues. Probably for John Edwards, the best moment was when he turned to Cheney and said, you know, Mr. Cheney -- Mr. Vice president I don't thing Americans can take another four years of this administration.

Sort of a rendition of Ronald Reagan's famous line of "Are you better off?" That clearly was one that he'd been waiting to deliver. Obviously an effective line. I'm not sure if the idea was for John Edwards to come in here and show the American people that, in fact, he can be a heartbeat away in sore far as this is seen as a draw or as both of them doing very well. One would have to believe that that means that John Edwards did pass that test. That's one of those things that we kind of have to wait for a little while to see how people, in fact, react. They're not unhappy with this. I think you noticed with the interview with Mary Beth Cahill, certainly not unhappy with John Edwards' performance, believing obviously, that he held his own.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, thanks very much. John, thanks to you as well.

Let's see how some people reacted to this 90-minute debate. Before that let's go to Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Bill Hemmer was watching and listening together with a small group of undecided voters.

Bill Hemmer, take it away.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening. We have 24 mostly undecided voters here on the campus of Ohio State University. We've given them these meters, one through 10, again, just to refresh you on the system here. Ten being the strongest positive, one being the strongest negative. Over the 90 minute period between John Edwards and Dick Cheney, we want to pick out two particular clips that showed the highest marks that this group of two dozen people have given this debate tonight. The first one we want to show you. And again, as you watch the meters here on the screen, the women are in yellow, the men are in blue. The highest spike that we found for the vice president came on the issue of gay marriage. Watch what happened there.


CHENEY: Freedom does mean freedom for everybody. People ought to be free to choose any arrangement they want. It's really no one else's business. That's a separate question from the issue of whether or not government should sanction or approve or give some sort of authorization, if you will, to these relationships. Traditionally that's been an issue for the states. States have regulated marriage, if you will. That would be my preference.


HEMMER: You can literally watch the meters rises a the vice president is speaking on that on that topic. Now for John Edwards, the North Carolina senator.

When he talked about the economy and specifically mentioned outsourcing. Watch the meters go there.


EDWARDS: That's a fundamental difference with us. The administration says over and over, that the outsourcing of millions of American jobs is good. We're against it. We want to get rid of tax cuts for companies sending jobs overseas. We want to balance this budget, get back the fiscal responsibility. And we want to invest in the creative, innovative jobs of the future.

CHENEY: When, we've got a 111 million taxpayers that have benefited from our income tax cuts.


HEMMER: And you can see just a slight lag there, it's only because the system is on a slight delay there. But again, that was the highest mark that we picked up for the senator from North Carolina.

In our audience quickly. Paul, before this debate began, you told me you wanted to hear these two men tell you what they were going to do.

Did you hear that tonight?

PAUL JACOBS, RETIRED: Yes. I heard far more definitive answers than I heard from the previous debate between are presidential candidates. I still hear too much he said, she said, you accusations. But there were definitive answers to specific questions.

HEMMER: Overall, I sense some satisfaction in your voice.

JACOBS: Yes, I didn't expect this satisfaction at their answers.

HEMMER: Over here to Felica, your big topic tonight was Iraq. Were you satisfied with what you heard tonight in that conversation?

FELICA DOTSON, CPA: No, not really. They talked a lot about the war, but I would have liked to hear more about how and when we're pulling the troops out. Not how we got here.

HEMMER: Well, Joseph final comment here. The whole issue of flip-flop, you were keen on that tonight. What did you hear?

JOSEPH TOWARNICKY: I think both candidates, vice presidential candidates missed the boat on the flip-flop issue. I think, any reasonable person should take new information as it comes and incorporate it into their decision making. If you make a decision in 2001 and ignore all that's happened since then, I think, you are just being stupid.

HEMMER: Overall, two dozen people here in central Ohio. Have you made up your mind who will you vote for come November 2. Let's see a show of hands, yes or no. Just about half. Which means you're still a bit undecided. So therefore it takes debate number two between the presidential ticket and then possibly debate number three between George Bush and John Kerry. We will see then. Thank you for your time tonight.

Excellent responses and a great group here too on the campus of Ohio State University. Back up I-71 to Wolf Blitzer there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. From Columbus back here to Cleveland. Bill Hemmer, very, have very interesting.

A lot of students here who have gathered to watch this debate, together with us. They're back behind us. They've got supporters from both sides. Very passionate supporters on both sides. They've been watching. They were very, very well behaved, I have to report, to all of our viewers out there. Some of them strongly supporting the president. Others strongly supporting the Democratic presidential nominee. We sometimes hear "four more years." and sometimes you hear "four more weeks" depending on their preference.

Let's go to spin alley. Our Judy Woodruff is inside, I guess surrogates for both sides trying to spin the media, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Wolf. Right here in this area along where the press, all the press was watching this debate on screens throughout the room, I talked to a number of people on both sides, Wolf.

Neither side wants to acknowledge that their guy was anything less than fabulous. The Democrats are saying, we won, we put it away. The Republicans are saying Dick Cheney gave John Edwards a good old fashioned whipping. John Edwards didn't know what he was talking about. But I talked to also reporters who, you know, one assumes their coming at this from the center. In their opinion this debate was close to a draw. And what they go on to say, though, is that if the Republicans if Dick Cheney was hoping to put away John Edwards by virtue of the vice president's considerable experience, he didn't do that tonight. John Edwards came back. He parried. He -- there was no charge that laid on the table that wasn't responded to. Having said that, there is a consensus that it was a draw. But we will see. It is still early in the reaction time out here.

BLITZER: All right, Judy, very early indeed.

Jeff Greenfield, the fact that it was a draw, isn't that effectively a win for John Edwards, the newcomer, as opposed to the vice president.

GREENFIELD: Well, I guess so. If the idea was that, as I put it to you earlier, that Yoda, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) wisdom was going to take this (UNINTELLIGIBLE), this homecoming king and put him away, that certainly didn't happen. And that's why I think the Friday debate becomes even more important.

One very quick note, this whole notion that people from each campaign pouring into this area to claim their guy won, it would be great idea if you could abolish that. The day that somebody comes out from the campaign and says, you know, my guy really stunk out the joint, I will personally send that persona check for $100 dollars. This is the most useless exercise in post modern media coverage that I know of. And I think really, enough's enough. It's a joke and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: ... people have a right to say whatever they want, including campaign surrogates.

GREENFIELD: Not to be taken seriously.

BLITZER: Well, I suspect a lot of people aren't taking it all that seriously.

We have a lot more coverage here on CNN. In fact, we're only beginning to asses, to analyze what has happened. We'll take a quick break. We'll be back with much more. Stay with us.


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