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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Town Hall Meeting: The Undecided Vote

Aired October 7, 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 Racine, Wisconsin. I'm Paula Zahn.
This is middle America, the nation's heartland. And people live here by their values. They are hardworking. They are practical. Both President Bush and Senator John Kerry are aggressively going after their vote. Neither candidate can afford to lose here. You might remember that Al Gore won this state by just a fraction of a point in the year 2000. Wisconsin matters. The folks gathered here tonight, as well as the rest of you out there, have an important decision to make in November. That's why we're here tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): The road to the White House winds through some picturesque countryside. Tonight, it is taking us here to Racine, Wisconsin. George Bush and John Kerry have both made more than a half a dozen trips to Wisconsin since the spring.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A great place to end is right here in Racine.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am so glad to be back here in Wisconsin.

BUSH: The economy of Wisconsin is strong and it is getting stronger.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KERRY: We need a president who fights for the average person.

BUSH: We're going to carry the state of Wisconsin.

ZAHN: Bush hasn't forgotten he lost the state in 2000 by a mere 5,400 votes.

From Racine's clean suburbs to its amazing cornfields, the candidates aren't the only ones focusing on the issues. In five of the last seven presidential elections, Wisconsin voters have sided with the Democrats. John Kerry hopes to keep that advantage. Manufacturing plants have shut down. The unemployment rate in the Racine is nearly double the national average. Kevin Burke (ph) has been looking for work for seven months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I spent the first few months struggling with being out of work and trying to figure out what to do. I'm very hopeful right now. I think things have picked up in the recent months.

ZAHN: For voters like Sarina Schrader (ph), it is the war in Iraq. Months ago, she watched tearfully as her husband left for Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think for me personally, my husband is going to be over in Iraq. So that has to be the No. 1 issue for me.

ZAHN: Tonight, with 26 days until the election, we've come here to Racine, the battleground state of Wisconsin, to listen to the voters and their concerns.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW, "A Town Hall Meeting: The Undecided Vote."

Live from Racine, Wisconsin, here's Paula Zahn.

(APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: Thank you very much.

All right, we're going to get started here. Delighted to be here. Thank you for your hospitality here this evening.

And welcome to the Racine Theater Guild for first of four town hall meetings we'll be hosting between now and the election on November 2. Of the 325 people here in the audience tonight, almost a third are undecided voters. You know who you are. You want some answers to questions that affect your families, your community and the nation.

And with this in mind week, commissioned a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll here in Wisconsin. Here's what we found. The poll shows President Bush ahead by three points, 48 to 45 percent, among registered voters. Consider that a dead heat. And it is another dead heat in the more important subset of likely voters.

And right now, I'm joined tonight by two very special guests, Tucker Eskew, an adviser to the Bush/Cheney campaign, and Tad Devine, a senior adviser to the Kerry Edwards campaign.

(APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: Welcome.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And, gentlemen, as we get started here tonight, I wanted to update all of you here and out there in the television viewing audience tonight about some of the developments today, not only violence in Iraq, but Egypt and Afghanistan.

Insurgents fired rockets at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Baghdad, which houses Western journalists and contractors. The attack caused a fire and damage, no casualties. Three explosions were reported along Egypt's Red Sea Coast near the border with Israel, the largest at the Hilton Hotel in Taba, where at least 30 people are reported dead, at least 100 injured.

And, in Afghanistan, which holds its first free elections on Saturday, an explosion in the capital city of Kabul. It apparently was a rocket that caused no injuries.

Our new poll also shows that by a 55-40 percent margin, 15 points, Wisconsin's registered voters think President Bush would better handle the war on terrorism. And by a 53-43 percent margin, a 10-point margin, they think the president would better handle the situation in Iraq.

So with that in mind, let's now turn to our guests.

Remember the rules. You go over 45 seconds, I rip the mikes off you.

TAD DEVINE, SENIOR JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: No buzzers, please.

ZAHN: All right, no buzzers, no lights. We're not doing that. You've got the audience to hold you to the fire tonight.

So we are going to start with our first question now from?

Please introduce yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tracy Sperco (ph).

And my question is, what mistakes do you feel have been made in the war in Iraq and how would you do things differently going forward?

TUCKER ESKEW, BUSH CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: I'll take that.

Thank you very much for the question.

And thanks to all of you. Delighted to be here, a state President Bush lost narrowly last time, he's working hard to win this time.

And one of the ways to do that is deal straight with the American people about the situation in Iraq. It is a difficult situation. President Bush said it would be difficult. In February of 2003, months before the war started, he said this is one of the real tests of our time. And certainly one of the mistakes we've learned is that the intelligence was wrong. The intelligence John Kerry and President Bush and other world leaders used to make the decision was proven wrong, 12 years in fact of accumulative evidence about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs.

ZAHN: So you don't think the president owes the American public any apology for going to war based on that intelligence?

ESKEW: Absolutely not. It was the right decision. The world is safer. The man who issued the report on WMD, Charles Duelfer, said himself that the world is safer because Saddam is out of power.

ZAHN: All right.

ESKEW: And that's a clear-cut answer. You can't get that kind of answer out of friends on the other side of this issue.

ZAHN: Tad.

DEVINE: Almost everything the president has done in Iraq is a mistake. He rushed to war with no plan to win the peace. We find out in recent days that in fact there were, definitively, no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The CIA told us that yesterday.

We find out that Paul Bremer, the ambassador there, asked the president for more troops so that they could secure Iraq in the early days. And the president failed to heed that advice.

Unfortunately, because the president rushed to war, today, the American taxpayers are paying $200 billion and American troops have lost over 1,000 lives. That's the burden of the president's mistakes that everyone is paying.

ZAHN: Does that answer your questions about the mistakes made, the mistakes owned up to?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That part does. But what would you do differently going forward? And I think that's something that a lot of Americans would like to know.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And contrary to what you two will say, a lot of people have analyzed it, don't think the president's plan is all that different from John Kerry on four key points.

ESKEW: Yes.

ZAHN: Point out to us what you think is the pivotal difference in the plan going forward.

ESKEW: Well, first of all, it's whether you are willing to take a tough stand and stick by it even when it's unpopular.

Right now, the headlines are pretty bad, but you know where George Bush's head is. You don't know with John Kerry unless you are really following the political winds. The president speaks from the heart. He analyzed the situation and he's got a plan for the future of Iraq.

ZAHN: You didn't answer the question, though. The key difference.

ESKEW: Sure, it is. I just said it, Paula.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: The plan, but he would argue he has a plan.

ESKEW: No, it is why the people in Wisconsin and people nationwide believe President Bush is better at handling Iraq.

ZAHN: Tad.

ESKEW: Because they know where he's coming from, even when they don't always agree with every aspect.

DEVINE: The key difference is that John Kerry genuinely believes that the United States must lead strong alliances in the world, must work with allies. We should not turn our back on the rest of the world, which is what the president did in Iraq.

He rushed into that war and turned his back on historic alliances. John Kerry will bring them in, allow them, for example, to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq, in the oil industry of Iraq, to give them a stake in Iraq, so that they will send troops in, so our troops don't have to bear the burden almost alone.

ZAHN: On to our next question.

Sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Russell Eplasch (ph), 1st Sergeant U.S. Army, retired.

My question to you, gentlemen, is how are you going to maintain our military and moral strength of our servicemen?

ZAHN: Tad, why don't you take that one first?

DEVINE: Sure. Thank you.

First by treating them with the respect that they deserve, by making sure, for example, that veterans' benefits are upheld, that veterans' health benefits are in place and fully secured. John Kerry is also going to increase the active forces of this country by 40,000 troops, so our Ready Reserve and our National Guard are not deployed the way they are right now.

ZAHN: With a draft or without a draft?

DEVINE: Without a draft, OK?

And let me tell you, there's not going to be a draft because John Kerry understands that, if we have a commitment to our forces, a real commitment and back it up, we don't need to draft people into a military. And he also will not proceed recklessly on the course that this president has and invade countries without the other support of other nations.

ZAHN: Tucker, need a brief answer.

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW: Yes, I do.

Morale is high. Reenlistment is up. Our troops show strong levels of our support for their commander in chief, because they know where he is coming from.

And the veterans like you, who've completed their service, have gotten dramatic increases in veterans' health care. We've reduced the backlogs at V.A. hospitals to get them the treatment they need. And President Bush has twice signed legislation allowing concurrent receipt, meaning you can receive retirement pay and disability benefits.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: You will have an opportunity to follow up on that later. We're going to take a short break now. We have got plenty of territory to cover on the other side.

We're going to be back in a moment with more of our town hall meeting from Racine, Wisconsin. This is PRIME TIME POLITICS: The Undecided Vote.

We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM MAHER, VOTER: No. 1 issue in the election this year is the war on terror, and if you will, the war in Iraq, and getting rid of Saddam was a good thing.

ANGIE VAIL, VOTER: Was it necessary? I mean, that's something that I am toying with in my head.

PAT DAWSON, VOTER: I guess the most important thing to me is Iraq. It's on everybody's mind, I'm sure, and like you said, seeing it resolved.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: And welcome back for our live town hall meeting from Racine, Wisconsin, where we're joined again by Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Senator Kerry, and Tucker Eskew, a senior adviser to the Bush/Cheney campaign.

And during the commercial break, I have to confess, I asked the audience if these guys were being disciplined enough with their answers. They want them shorter.

So now you're really under pressure tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: On to our next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is David Betcher (ph) and I am a chief warrant officer in the Army National Guard. And my question to you has to do with the multiple activations that soldiers are facing.

I have been activated once already. And I am about to activated again in December. And I have other soldiers that I deal with who've already been activated twice and are over there currently. That's an incredible burden on a small number of people to have to keep going back every two years. Our employers obviously are not very understanding. There's no reason they should have to be.

But our families are facing a huge burden from that. If I get activated for a year, always, we lose $9,000 to $10,000. And I am willing to do that for my country because that's what I signed up for.

ESKEW: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But to go every two years, my family can't afford that. My employer can't afford that and I can't afford that.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: So you basically want to know what is in store for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your plan going forward to keep from having to send the same soldiers continuously?

ESKEW: President Bush is working with the Pentagon and military officials to sort of smooth out some of these cycles. We recognize the burden.

ZAHN: So you don't find this to be an acceptable situation that he's talking about?

ESKEW: Look, we understand the strain on military families, particularly those in the Reserve and in the Guard, those who signed up to make a sacrifice and move out of their job and family situation on short notice. We're trying to increase the amount of time before call-ups are made and to increase the predictability of the return, while at the same time adding more support for the families back at home, knowing that they need job counseling. They in some cases need more social services, and they certainly need a strong community effect, a strong fabric from that base community and other military assets in the region.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Tad, is there something fundamentally wrong with what Tucker just said?

DEVINE: There's a better approach. That's what's wrong.

Let me quickly try to answer, because I know you want quick answers. One, 40,000 active troops John Kerry will put in place to take the pressure off the Guard. Two, a military family's bill of rights, which will help families like yours in your situation with many benefits. And, three, never recklessly rushing into war without a plan to win the peace.

(APPLAUSE)

DEVINE: That puts the Guard...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: We also want to start including -- I hope you thought you got your question answered there.

We are going to move on to some e-mail questions. And close to 7,000 of you responded to our -- asking you to provide some questions tonight.

This one comes from Ken Benka in Milwaukee, who asks John Kerry: "If elected, would you continue to use Halliburton for reconstruction in Iraq? What would be your plans for effective reconstruction in Iraq?"

And noting that Halliburton is one of the few companies in the world that is qualified to do this kind of work, what would do you differently?

DEVINE: End the system of no-bid contracts.

(APPLAUSE)

DEVINE: That awarded $7.5 billion to Halliburton. That's what he would do, make sure that military procurement was done on an honest and open base, because this undermines completely the public trust in Iraq and in our efforts abroad. So that's a good place to begin. Start with that.

ZAHN: Is it or is it not true, though, that Halliburton was one of the few companies, including subsidiaries, that was prepared to do this kind of work?

DEVINE: It's a fact. And it's also true that they could have had a system to ensure that others would have a chance.

Here is what is happening right now in Iraq. Instead of hiring Iraqis, we are hiring Halliburton. If you want to get Iraq safe and secure, why don't we give them jobs over there? That would give them the investment.

(APPLAUSE)

ESKEW: Why don't we stop insulting them, like the Kerry campaign continually does, insulting the prime minister of Iraq, running down the contributions by Iraqis.

(BOOING)

ESKEW: Running down the contributions by Iraqis. They completely dismissed the deaths and casualties suffered by Iraq. Iraq is our No. 1 ally in this fight.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: That's a different issue. But is the infrastructure in place for Iraqis to do the kind of job that Halliburton is

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW: There is not. To my knowledge, that's why we're adding billions of dollars in reconstruction money to help do just exactly that.

Let me just say, the criticisms that have come out of this campaign on Halliburton have been proven false by independent bodies like FactCheck.org.

(APPLAUSE)

ESKEW: They ought to stop it, but don't count on it.

ZAHN: You can clearly tell where our Bush supporters are and our Kerry supporters. And the undecideds are scattered through here.

On to your question now, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is Leon Surry (ph). And I am from Greenfield, Wisconsin.

On 9/11, the United States realized, the American people realized that we were facing a new and a different threat to our freedom and security. What I would like to know is how President Bush and Senator Kerry would respond to prevent and if, in case we are attacked, how they would respond to another terrorist attack, such as we experienced on 9/11?

ESKEW: Thank you, sir. Great question.

President Bush has said repeatedly we are in a post-September 11 world. And we have to act accordingly. The first thing to do is to prevent, as you said. That means going on offense. That means fighting the terrorists on their turf, not on our shores, whenever possible.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ESKEW: Second, to prevent, it means dramatic increases in homeland security, including port security. It means beefing up communications capabilities by first-responders; $280 million has gone to do that already, so we don't have those problems we saw at the World Trade Center towers, where you couldn't have the police and the fires talking to each other. So that's another serious step.

And then to be on offense. I will just repeat it because I said it at the beginning. The president has built a coalition. It's a coalition they've denigrated, but it's been built and it's working in Afghanistan, where elections are hours away. And it's working in Iraq, where we are months away from democratic elections.

ZAHN: Tad.

DEVINE: Senator Kerry will not hesitate to use preemptive force to defend the nation, despite what the other side said. He will not hesitate to get and kill the terrorists before they can get and kill us, and people should understand that about him.

Second, unlike the president, he will join in strong alliances of other nations so that we can fight the war on terror on a collective basis and not unilaterally and not arbitrarily and not with America bearing the burden almost alone. That's the fundamental difference in this race.

(APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: All right, gentlemen, we're going to end this section on that note.

When we come back, our town hall will continue and our attention will turn to the economy and jobs next. Please stay with us. We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: And welcome back to our town hall meeting in Racine, Wisconsin. We're going to focus now on the economy and jobs.

In our CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, we asked registered voters in Wisconsin which candidate they felt would better handle the economy; 46 percent said President Bush; 50 percent said Senator Kerry.

Joining us again are the Kerry campaign senior adviser, Ted Devine -- Tad, that is -- excuse me -- and Bush campaign adviser Tucker Eskew. You guys have tough names.

All right, on to our question now about the economy.

VINCE RUFFOLO, PRESIDENT & CEO, SIC INC.: Thank you.

My name is Vince Ruffolo. I am president and CEO of SIC Inc.

In the last four years, we have lost thousands of jobs in the Midwest here, just as well as nationally. We also saw a burden of health care to the small employer to midsize employer. The outsources has handcuffed us dramatically, because our competition is no longer around the corner in the United States. But it's from Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Brazil, and other parts of the world where laws and regulations don't even apply.

But our government totally ignore them. What is President Bush going to do for us which he has not done in the last four years for small employers?

ESKEW: Still more to do and 45 seconds won't really do it justice.

But he is first of all going to prevent John Kerry's approach, which is taxation, more litigation and more regulation. We've got to fight all of those. That's critical.

(APPLAUSE)

ESKEW: Absolutely critical.

He is going to make health care a major priority, continued priority for small businesses through association health plans to allow you to group together, through health savings accounts, so that employees without health plans can save and have a high deductible plan with very low costs.

And he's going to increase the amount of money in the pocket of business owners; 97 percent of the businesses in Wisconsin are small businesses. John Kerry's plan to raise taxes on those small businesses -- let's not forget, 900,000 small businesses will face dramatic tax increases under John Kerry, the senator from Massachusetts. He's a high tax man. George W. Bush is not. It's a fundamental difference.

ZAHN: Are those numbers accurate?

DEVINE: No, they're not. In fact...

(LAUGHTER)

ESKEW: Prove it.

DEVINE: I'll be happy to prove it.

Listen, 900,000 small businesses, under his definition of small business, George Bush, who made $87 last year because he had an interest in a timber mine, is a small business. That's the 900,000 small businesses.

(CROSSTALK)

ESKEW: If you want to take one off the list, that's fine.

DEVINE: But let me try to answer your question.

First, John Kerry will end the laws that reward outsourcing. We actually give companies incentives to ship American jobs overseas.

(APPLAUSE)

DEVINE: He will end it. We are going to stop it.

Second, he has an ambitious health care plan which will dramatically cut the costs of health care for small businesses and will cut the cost for average middle-class families by $1,000 a year.

(APPLAUSE)

DEVINE: We'll expand coverage dramatically as well.

And he will cut taxes for 99 percent of the businesses in America. That's what he'll do. And it will create jobs, unlike what has happened the last four years.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: We have another e-mail for the two of you, this one from Laura Thompson of Milwaukee.

And she writes: "I keep being told the job situation is better. But I'm baffled as to where. Yes, our papers are filled with jobs, but I'd like to see either candidate work for $7 an hour and raise a family. Who should a person in my position vote for and why?"

Tad.

DEVINE: Well, the choice is obvious. She should vote for John Kerry, because he will invest in people like her.

OK, we're going to create an economy that creates jobs by rejecting the approach of the last four years. The president's approach to the economy is this: Massive tax breaks for the wealthiest of Americans will create jobs. It's failed. The approach that worked was the strategy that Democrats put in place in the 1990s. Invest in people. Give companies opportunities. Invest in health care. Invest in education. It created 23 million jobs in this country, that strategy, and that is what we will return to if John Kerry is president.

(APPLAUSE)

ESKEW: I would like to respond to that.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Yes, I want to add one little -- even some independent analysis has suggested this tax cut has not given the stimulus to these small businesses that you had targeted and hoped would grow.

ESKEW: Paula, the Fed chairman has said, without those tax cuts, we wouldn't have had what we've got.

And what we've got, $1.7 million.

DEVINE: Jobs.

ESKEW: One-point-seven million jobs created in the last 12 months.

We've faced catastrophic shocks. The economy George W. Bush was handed was the worst since the Depression. It was in recession.

(BOOING)

ESKEW: It was in recession. Hold on, folks. Let me finish. It was in recession, thanks to some policies at the end of the last administration.

(APPLAUSE)

ESKEW: We had 9/11. We had September 11, a massive shock on our economy. And we had a president who was ready to confront that, not with just tax cuts, but also with reduced regulation, a fight against the kind of lawsuits that Democrats seem to promote through the trial lawyer lobby that they've put on their own ticket.

So I think the Fed chairman's made very clear the president's tax cuts were well-timed and important.

ZAHN: Very brief rebuttal. We're going to move on to our next question.

DEVINE: I don't think Bill Clinton cost anybody their jobs in the last four years, OK? I'm sorry. Didn't happen. Didn't happen.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: All right, and if you want to know how challenging it is for us every night, you take that 1.7 million number and people are saying you're combining public and private sector jobs. And we could go on for the next two hours about that.

(CROSSTALK)

DEVINE: If we don't create 1.8 million jobs, we don't even keep up with the population growth, OK?

ESKEW: To answer the woman's original question, 80 percent of the new jobs created in Wisconsin are paying above the national average.

ZAHN: All right, sir, your turn.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Alfonso Gardener (ph).

And this is not the spin zone. This is CNN, OK? The question I have for both of you gentlemen, but I'm going to address George W. Bush first. He came to Racine about two or three weeks ago. We have the highest unemployment in the state. George Bush didn't say anything about a job. What is that? How are you going to create a job and create a job when you come here and don't talk about a job? We have the highest unemployment. We need jobs. What is he going to do for us? (CROSSTALK)

ESKEW: First of all, let the viewers know than, statewide, Wisconsin was an unemployment rate much lower than the national average.

And here in Racine, here in Racine, where the president has talked about jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When?

ESKEW: Where he today, sir, was in Wisconsin talking about jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am talking about Racine.

ESKEW: The president, sir, indeed, wants to extend prosperity to every corner of America, and he's got a plan to do it.

You know, we talk about extending these tax cuts and it's not just -- it's not just for these rich that they talk about. The rich go get lawyers and accountants and they fix their tax problems, so Democrats end up taxing everybody. The fact is, sir...

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: OK.

ESKEW: Fact is, sir, if I may, be very blunt with you.

ZAHN: Be quick here.

ESKEW: Absolutely. The president's plan will make a difference for middle class Americans. That's who he's fighting for, and you can't trust the other side on taxes, litigation or regulation.

ZAHN: All right.

TAD DEVINE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Hold on, hold on.

ZAHN: One sec. Tad, add to that and also to the notion that a lot of economists hold to be true and that is presidents don't create jobs. They can help provide policies that stimulate the economy.

DEVINE: That's right.

ZAHN: They're not the job creators.

DEVINE: That's right. The American economy creates jobs, but we can have a government in Washington that's going to help states like Wisconsin to create jobs. A government in Washington which will pursue policies, for example, of investing in people and education and health and cutting costs for businesses.

The dramatic costs of health care, which have escalated beyond control. Fifty percent increases in the last five years. Sixty-four percent increase here in Wisconsin in health care costs since George Bush became president. If we have a president that will actually help businesses and help families afford health care, then we can begin to create more jobs because that burden that's being placed on businesses will be removed.

If we have a president who will invest in tax cuts for businesses, who will invest in education and job training, if we have a president who follows an economic strategy which lowers the deficit, not take the greatest surplus in history and turn it into the greatest deficit in history, we can create jobs. That's what we can do.

ZAHN: Sir? Do you -- this is simple yes or no. Do you feel any more assured by either one of their answers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want my honest to God answer?

ZAHN: Really short.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You really want my answer?

ZAHN: Really short. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what? All politicians, all they do is talk. They don't tell the truth. And the truth is, is that we in trouble in the United States.

ZAHN: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And until they start telling the truth, and taking care of all people, this country is going to hell.

ZAHN: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They need to take care of all people.

ZAHN: Thank you. We're going to be back more on the economy and jobs. Your questions straight ahead when we continue our town hall meeting. And this is PRIME TIME POLITICS: THE UNDECIDED VOTE.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SLAASTED, SAM-I-AM CHARTERS: I don't care if it's Bush or Kerry. We need the jobs back here. We can't afford to have them keep being shipped overseas.

MELISSA HENNESSY, WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT CENTER: Having been out of work and without health care, it's just -- it's a struggle, and I think it's across all socio-economic lines that it affects Americans.

JAMES BROCKMAN, RACINE RESIDENT: Say creating a lot of jobs, but the jobs they're creating is not adequate to sustain your way of life.

(END VICEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: And welcome back to our town hall meeting from Racine, Wisconsin. Our guests, once again, Tucker Eskew, an advisor to the Bush/Cheney campaign, and Tad Devine, senior adviser to the Kerry/Edwards campaign.

More of our questions now from our audience.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Margaret Luther, and I am proud to say that I'm from the all-American city of Racine, Wisconsin.

ZAHN: Gentlemen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My question for both of you is, as many of us Baby Boomers retire or plan to retire, what plans do you have in store to ensure that the Social Security and Medicare systems that my husband and myself have supported for the last 35 years will be there when I'm able to benefit from those plans?

ZAHN: Very good question.

ESKEW: Good question, Mrs. Luther. Thank you for asking it.

Two things. One, President Bush has a record on Medicare and No. 2, our opponent has no plan on Social Security. So, let me take that real quick.

On Medicare, the president helped lead an effort, a bipartisan effort, to finally push through Medicare reform, to modernize it, to provide prescription drugs within the framework. Previously, it just allowed doctor visits and surgery when in fact medicines can help prevent both of those from occurring.

So by 2006, hundreds of millions of Americans will have access to prescription drug program under Medicare, and already millions are saving with the Medicare discount program for -- for that.

And on Social Security, the president wants younger workers to be able to invest some of their money, some of it within private savings accounts.

ZAHN: All right.

ESKEW: To ensure that younger workers have an opportunity.

ZAHN: Tad, the first part of that, that John Kerry has no Medicare plan.

DEVINE: That's false. John Kerry, unlike the president, will protect and defend Medicare. And let me tell you how we'll do it.

You cannot run up record budget surpluses and defend Medicare and Social Security. We need those surpluses. The president promised when he ran four years ago not to take any money out of the Social Security surplus. He's drained it to nothing. He's drained it to nothing. And that's what we need to do. We need to get back to fiscal responsibility and discipline. To put the money into Social Security. The -- John Kerry will end the president's prescription drug plan, which is a plan for drug companies and not for senior citizens. That's what he will do.

And he will never privatize Social Security, ever with $2 trillion of transition costs that they have no way to pay for.

ZAHN: Can I ask both of you a question, though? Because when you look at the costs of John Kerry's health care plan and the cost of the Bush plan to privatize Social Security, every analysis shows that the federal deficit goes up and up and up, and if you're really serious about the federal deficit, both of you would have to consider...

ESKEW: Let me just say...

ZAHN: ... rolling back the plan or altering it. Very, very quick.

ESKEW: The president does not want to privatize Social Security. Don't believe it. You hear it; it's a rumor. The fact is, he wants to reform it, make it better and make it for younger workers while protecting it for the current recipients.

ZAHN: Tad?

DEVINE: Paula, unlike the president, John Kerry has said publicly, how he will pay for his health care plan. If you make more than $200,000 a year, your taxes will go up, and that will provide the money to pay for health care in America.

ZAHN: Sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, my name is Rob Malanowski (ph), and I'm a general surgeon in independent practice here in Racine and I've also been the past president of the Health Care Network, which is the volunteer agency to provide health care for the uninsured.

I'm happy to be practicing in Wisconsin, because we've been spared a little bit from the liability, professional liability increases that are on the national problem. But still, I've seen a 20 percent increase in my liability premium this year. I have dual concerns. As a health care provider, and one of it's...

ZAHN: Your question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm getting...

ZAHN: Quickly, quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have dual concerns. How do you -- what do you think you will do in health care policy to ensure that people can receive health care, the uninsured and underinsured, and also make sure doctors can stay in practice? DEVINE: Yes, quickly. I'll try to answer it. The most ambitious expansion of health care to the 45 million Americans who have none, paid for, as I mentioned, by money by taxing Americans who make more than $200,000 a year.

We'll expand healthcare dramatically. Ninety percent of the people in America will have access and 100 percent of the children will have access to health care.

In terms of liability reform. You know, it's a serious issue, and it needs to be addressed, and here's how. By first, making sure that no one goes to court -- court until they first have to go to a board to approve the validity of the claim.

Second, by putting in place a mechanism so that lawyers who bring frivolous lawsuits three times are no longer allowed to go to court and to practice in terms of medical liability or any kind of practice like that. Real reform, which will be admitted (ph).

And third, by stopping the collusion of insurance companies, which are part of the problem, which they will never do.

ZAHN: Tucker.

ESKEW: The president has a real plan for medical liability reform, and that's why the trial lawyers, which are represented on our opponent's ticket, have fought it at every turn. John Kerry's fought it, too.

The fact is we've got to drive those costs out of the system, and we've got to get young people into the system. We've got to get people who are left out.

But the problem is, ladies and gentlemen, John Kerry's plan puts 80 percent of the new people they would bring in with this very expensive plan they cannot pay for with just their tax increases they've announced. Eighty percent would go into a government plan.

This is, as the president said today, Clinton care. And no one in this room thinks that the Clinton administration solved health care by making it bigger. That's what they wanted to do, making it a big government approach. That's John Kerry's approach.

And in fact, it would take eight million people who are already in private plans and force them into a government plan. The government one size fits all solution is no way to do this.

Health care absolutely is a huge issue. It's the biggest single part our economy. Let's not mess with it by having the government take it over.

ZAHN: Quite rejoinder.

DEVINE: John Kerry opposes a government health care plan and supports providing incentives to businesses and individuals to participate in private health care. ZAHN: Hope that helps you.

We'll be right back with one of the most sensitive hot-button issues of the campaign, gay marriage. Should we amend the Constitution? From Racine, Wisconsin, this is PRIME TIME POLITICS special, THE UNDECIDED VOTE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES L. FOSTER SR., UNDECIDED VOTER: At this point, I'm undecided. I always vote for the best man. Most people vote based on their needs, and whoever reflect the wish of the people.

DOROTHY MCDONALD, UNDECIDED VOTER: I'm so torn between this election. I really am. So it's going to mean an overnight decision for me the last Monday. It's going to be an overnight decision right now. Right now, I don't know who I I'm going to vote for. I have no idea, but I am voting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, that, of course, is the most important thing to ultimately vote, and we're back at our town hall meeting in Racine, Wisconsin. With me again are Tucker Eskew, an adviser to the Bush/Cheney campaign; and Tad Devine, a senior adviser to the Kerry/Edwards campaign.

Are you having fun yet, you two?

All right. On to Janice Bernal's question of West Bend, Wisconsin. "The president and the Republican Congress have made amending the Constitution to protect marriage from gays and lesbians a top priority. Does the president have any proof that heterosexual marriage in Massachusetts has suffered as a result of the legalization of same sex marriages in that state?"

ESKEW: I don't think President Bush needs a statistic to know that hundreds, if not thousands of thousands of years of human tradition of marriage between a man and a woman is an institution worth protecting.

ZAHN: How is that institution eroded by same-sex marriage?

ESKEW: I think you ask most Americans, and they recognize that keeping it is a unique institution between a man and a woman is something that protects it.

ZAHN: All right.

ESKEW: I think that's common sense. And I think what courts did -- there are certainly Americans who certainly disagree with that, and the president, I think, has been very respectful of those points of view, so I'd ask you to be the same toward his. I think the judges in Massachusetts, Senator Kerry's home state, started to show some erosion of that institution. The president felt compelled.

DEVINE: John Kerry believes that marriage should exist between a man and a woman, but he also strongly believes that we should not use our Constitution to divide the nation.

ZAHN: You have the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, my name is Virginia Burlingame (ph), and I have a question.

Senator Kerry and Edwards seem to be getting a lot of criticism these days about minimal attendance in Senate sessions and votes. I wonder why the senators haven't rebutted these accusations so that we can get on with the real meat of the campaign.

DEVINE: Yes. Well, I guess if we tried to rebut every accusation they made all the time, we'd do nothing but rebut their accusations.

Let me say this about Senator Kerry's attendance record. From the time he was elected in 1984 until he began running for president after 2002, every single year his attendance was between 20 -- 95 percent and 100 percent.

And that's a man who, for many years, returned home every weekend as a single father of two children. And he had a remarkable and very good attendance record. Now, he and Senator...

ZAHN: Certainly, are not the numbers the Bush campaign put out there.

DEVINE: He and Senator Edwards have missed a lot of votes as they have run for president. There's no denying it. They never missed a vote, though, when Senator Daschle called and said, "We need your vote to break a tie or we need your vote to make a difference." Never and never will.

ZAHN: All right. And Tucker, the Democrats came after the vice president the other night for saying he attended a certain number of weekly meetings with senators and it turned out that wasn't the case.

ESKEW: Let's get a couple of things straight here. We've talked about record and we've talked about attendance.

You've referred to the extent of his career and suggested that it's only during the campaign. Folks, this man, Senator Kerry missed 74 percent of the meetings of the intelligence committee. Seventy- four percent of them. The public meetings and he won't release the statistics on how many he missed or how many he made of the closed meetings.

So I think that's a very telling thing, and that was in the year after the first bombing of the World Trade Center. So that's a very important distinction.

The other point I'd like to make, because we haven't heard a word tonight, Paula. My friend Tad just mentioned John Kerry's record. That's about the first time we've heard that here tonight. He's got a record that deserves some real scrutiny.

ZAHN: Address -- address very quickly, though, Vice President Cheney's attendance records at these weekly meetings he's supposed to be with senators. The body he's supposed to preside over.

ESKEW: I think the work that gets done in the Senate, the vice president is there when he's needed. And in fact, you know, John Edwards made light of the fact that they had met before, but it wasn't at work. It was at a prayer breakfast.

ZAHN: All right. We can clearly tell which arguments are not passing the nest which part of the room by now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Dan Fielding (ph), and I'm directing principal of Durst-Finagle Home Middle School (ph), part of the Racine Unified School District, and I approve this question.

ZAHN: You may have a future in politics!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no. With a premium that's been placed on accountability in school districts across this nation through the No Child Left Behind legislation, in terms of attendance, graduation rates, reading and math scores, along with the ever-increasing budget crisis that school districts are facing across this nation and overcrowded classrooms, violence on the rise in schools and so on, and what is going to be done to help ease the burden of local school districts in terms of providing monetary resources to local school districts across this country?

ESKEW: Thank you for asking that question, and thank you for your hard work in the school district.

President Bush is a partner with local school districts by increasing dramatically federal funding, federal funding's gone up over 50 percent.

The -- President Bush has seen to it, working in a bipartisan basis with the Congress, that the funding for special-ed, that the funding for math and science, the support statistics that give your local school districts new funding, have gone up dramatically. In fact the most dramatic increase in federal funding since 1960.

But that is in exchange for those higher standards. And we are starting to see out of a majority of states and a majority of school districts, higher performance on just those things: attendance, graduation, reading and science. It's critically important.

The Democrats criticize it with some made-up statistics about what we should have funded. We've had a huge increase along with increased accountability. DEVINE: Here's a fact and not a statistic. If the president fully funded No Child Left Behind, Wisconsin next year would receive $98 million more from the federal government. Wisconsin would be time hire over 3,000 teachers with that money and be able to do it, many of the things that you're talking about doing.

John Kerry is committed to fully funding No Child Left Behind.

ZAHN: All right, gentlemen, we're going to move on. We're going to open it up to questions on any topic when we come back. More PRIME TIME POLITICS: THE UNDECIDED VOTE right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to Racine, Wisconsin. We're going to share with you an e-mail question from Emily Kearns of Mequon -- did I get that right? -- Mequon, Wisconsin. All right!

Her question is, "Why do you think the Democrats have been so negative towards our country during this time of war and the possibility of terrorism in United States and around the world?"

The president's argument, you can't fight this war and be a leader if you're against this war. Quick answer.

DEVINE: Because John Kerry believes the American people deserve the truth. And I guess the truth that she's hearing, she believes is negative.

He's going to tell the truth as he sees it and calls it as he sees, and unfortunately, some people aren't going to like it but he believes the American people and our troops deserve it.

ZAHN: Fire away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Alison White (ph). And I was wondering with the possible retirement of several Supreme Court justices approaching, what are the plans of each candidate to elect -- to select fair, nonpartisan justices?

ZAHN: Tucker.

ESKEW: Well, President Bush has put down a very clear marker, that he will choose judges who do not use the court, use the bench, to interpret the law, that they strictly interpret the Constitution and build cases around that interpretation of the Constitution.

DEVINE: John Kerry will not select judges on the basis of ideology. He will select them on the basis of confidence, but he will also make sure that if he appoints someone to the Supreme Court, they respect a woman's right to choose.

ZAHN: Let's -- All right. One more question here. Real quickly.

All right, hang on, hang on. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

ZAHN: Want to hear one more question in here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Lloyd Hall (ph). My question is on the scope of our foreign policy initiatives.

I support the action in Iraq. My concern is the narrowness of the focus. Are either of the candidates prepared to deal with all of the issues, such as Iran, North Korea and the other burgeoning threats throughout the world that we really need to focus on, as well?

ESKEW: Absolutely. President Bush has a comprehensive plan. In Iran, he's working with our allies.

We get criticized for being unilateral, not working with allies and yet we have a very successful alliance with the European Union, Great Britain, France, and Germany in taking the United Nations, IAEA. It's one of these boards that's responsible for pursuing nuclear policies and holding countries to account.

ZAHN: OK.

ESKEW: And we've shown some progress there. While our six-party talks dealing with North Korea are showing progress as opposed to the way it worked in the last administration. A failed approach that John Kerry would repeat.

ZAHN: Tad.

DEVINE: Well, the difference on North Korea, which is a dangerous -- a great danger to the United States right now, is that John Kerry will bilateral negotiation and will resume, hopefully, the progress that we made in the last administration.

They've acquired nuclear weapons because this president turned his back with the great threat. Great threat.

ESKEW: That happened before. They had them under the Clinton administration.

ZAHN: Final question now from our audience tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Juliet Johnson (ph), and I have a question about voter fraud.

We're having a real problem with that in the state. I know that Wisconsin is one of six states that has a very lenient -- lenient voter registration guide and rule.

ZAHN: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Currently, there are four people under investigation in Racine County alone. My question is, why is there not a federal law requiring photo I.D. and proof of residency to prevent the fraud? ZAHN: OK. You each have 15 seconds to answer that a piece.

ESKEW: The president strongly defends the right to vote and for the sanctity of that ballot to never be questioned. Our Justice Department pursues cases to ensure that.

DEVINE: John Kerry would oppose the photo I.D., because it could be used for a lot of other purposes than stopping people from voting.

ZAHN: All right.

Predictions about tomorrow night? The big debates in St. Louis? Ten-second thought of what to look for.

DEVINE: I predict that John Kerry will do very well, and I predict the president will do well, too. Much better than he did last Thursday.

ESKEW: I predict a really good discussion of the issues. I predict we will finally get John Kerry to try to defend that really bad record.

ZAHN: All right. We very much appreciate you joining us tonight. Our thanks to our guests, Bush/Cheney campaign advisor Tucker Eskew and Kerry/Edwards senior adviser Tad Devine.

I hope you all have learned something this evening. Thank you so much for your participation.

And of course, tomorrow we'll zero in on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the second round between George W. Bush and John Kerry, but this time voters will be asking the questions. We will be in St. Louis for the second presidential debate. Our live coverage gets underway at 8 p.m. Eastern.

And I will be moderating another in our series of live town hall meetings one week from tonight in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. And then October 21, we'll hold a town hall meeting in Clark County, Ohio. And on November 1, the night before the election, in Kissimmee, Florida near Orlando.

You can submit a question or two for our town hall meetings on our web site: CNN.com/Paula.

Again, thank you all for joining us tonight and our audience here in Racine and our audience out there. Thank you for taking the time out of a very busy campaign schedule. I know you two are on the move and you're on the road much. We appreciate the time you spent here this evening.

And we hope to see you all tomorrow night in St. Louis. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Thank you very much for joining us tonight. We'll be back tomorrow night.

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


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