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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Bush vs. Kerry: Round Two; Campaigns Spin Employment Numbers

Aired October 8, 2004 - 15:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: Here they go again. We're covering all the angles of the Bush-Kerry rematch and how it's likely to differ from their first debate.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. Even before tonight's face-off, the Bush and Kerry camps are arguing about new employment numbers.

DON EVANS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: I feel very good about it.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These numbers are so disappointing.

ANNOUNCER: The inside story on the audience. How were uncommitted voters chosen for this year's town hall-style event?

Mother knows best. Some Missouri women think they could teach the presidential contenders a thing or two.

TERRELLE MITCHELL, VOTER: We're moms. We are used to multitasking. I want to hear everything. What are you going to do about everything?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Saint Louis, site of tonight's presidential debates, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

George W. Bush and John Kerry should have a pretty clear idea of what they need to accomplish here in Saint Louis tonight. The question is, can they pull it off? When they enter the hall here at Washington University and take the stage, the president will try to rebound from his widely panned debate performance last week and Senator Kerry will be trying to build on the momentum that he gained from their matchup in Miami.

No doubt both candidates are anticipating questions about jobs and the economy, given the town hall-style format tonight and the release of new figures today. The final employment report before Election Day shows 96,000 jobs were added in September, fewer than the economists had forecast. The unemployment rate remained unchanged, while job growth numbers for August were revised downward. Democrats are pouncing on these numbers as evidence of what they call the Bush administration economic failures. But, as you would expect, the Bush camp reads the numbers differently, emphasizing 13 straight months of jobs growth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EVANS: The survey that counts, the total number of Americans working in this country today, the one survey of the government that does that, says that we've added some two million jobs since the president took office and we have right at more Americans working today ever in the history of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The Bush campaign presses that message in a new television ad to run on national cable, we are told. The spot repeats the administration's claim of almost two million jobs created in the past year, not once or twice, but six times, the ad says.

Well, President Bush and Senator Kerry are mostly staying behind the scenes today, making final preparations for their showdown here tonight in Saint Louis at Washington University. But Kerry emerged a short time ago to talk about the new jobs numbers.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Candy, they can't resist.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they can't.

And, in fact, Judy, yesterday, even before these jobs numbers came out, one thing was really clear. Unless a million new jobs were created last month, the Kerry campaign was going down the line that you heard, which is, when you add it all up, George Bush has still lost more jobs in these past four years than he has gained.

You are right. The senator came over here to the debate site at Washington University, took a look and, then afterwards, toed the party line, toed his campaign line as he talked about the jobless figures.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, we received more bad economic news about the country. And the president is now officially the first president in 72 years to lose jobs on his watch. Tonight, I look forward to talking to America about how we can have a better plan to put Americans back to work and to create better jobs for our country. And that's what America deserves and that's what it's going to get. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: For the rest of the day, we are told that Senator Kerry is relaxing in his hotel room here in Saint Louis. He has tossed back and forth with his top strategists a couple of questions, expected to have dinner with his wife, getting in a little exercise on an Exercycle.

So pretty laid back, Judy, going into tonight and actually feeling pretty good. They have told us all along, look, this is pretty much the president's debate. The pressure is on him. They really feel, remember, that this is their strong suit. They know that they will at least get 50 percent of the questions on domestic issues. Democrats have long felt that that was the key to their success and that this is where Kerry can really shine, so they feel pretty good about tonight.

WOODRUFF: So, Candy, they did feel good coming out of last week. What are they expecting? As you said, they know half the questions are domestic, but are they expecting this to be a tougher format because it is a town meeting style debate?

CROWLEY: Well, look, they say, oh, we know that President Bush has done a lot of these formats in the town hall and he's very good at it, so on the one hand, they kind of build him up.

On the other hand, they say, look, since he was so widely panned in the last debate, if he comes here and he's affable and he puts sentences together, then you all, meaning the media, will declare it a huge success. So they are sort of anticipating that that might happen. On the other hand, John Kerry has done a lot of these town hall meeting and in debate format as well.

Remember, he's been through the primaries up against 10 other people who wanted the job he currently has. So he is no newbie to these town hall meeting. He does them very well. So while they do say, look, the format is different from last time, it's certainly not new to John Kerry.

WOODRUFF: OK, Candy Crowley. And she will be around throughout the evening to report on what happens before and after -- Candy, thank you.

We will also have a live report on the Bush campaign and we'll talk with representatives of both candidates a little later on INSIDE POLITICS.

Heading into tonight's debate, another poll drives home how close this presidential race is. The just released "TIME" magazine survey shows Bush and Kerry in a dead heat among likely voters nationwide. The poll shows Bush now trails Kerry on likability. That's a quality that Bush had the advantage on before the first debate. And the "TIME" poll shows Kerry has recently recaptured a sizable lead, 50 percent to 38 percent, among women voters.

Well, many women here in the state of Missouri and across the country may be watching tonight's debate with one eye on the television, with the other eye on their children.

Our John King talked to some moms in suburban Saint Louis about their lives, their issues, and the presidential candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pro-choice, no gun control.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some for Kerry, some Bush, a couple not so sure, but on this, these busy suburban moms agree. If they can debate so agreeably and about so many issues, why can't the candidates?

MITCHELL: Look up in Webster's the dictionary for debate and have a real debate and not canned responses. We're moms. We are used to multitasking. I want to hear everything.

KING: If not everything, Maureen McDonnell (ph) would settle for something new or at least a little different.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Both parties have gotten so good at having everyone, all of their spokespeople, really programmed to hit the same line, that same phrase.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's the Kerry doctrine, declaring that America's actions in the war on terror must pass a global test.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When John Kerry says we are going to have a global test.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Kerry doctrine that says we have to have a global test, we have to pass a global test.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To the point where you are just sort of like, I can't listen to you anymore. I can chant this with you, what you're going to say. And it's offensive and it's insulting to the voters.

KING: Amanda Wellford is a Bush supporter hoping his second debate performance is much better than the first.

AMANDA WELLFORD, VOTER: Like the minister with the three points that he gives in a sermon, I think the president was coached to keep his talking points very brief and simple. And for some of us, that's not very fulfilling.

KING: The sign outside gives Liz Forrestal away, but she's more anti-Bush than pro-Kerry and says their back-and-forth over Iraq and terrorism leaves her more confused than informed.

LIZ FORRESTAL, VOTER: I have to damn well cross my fingers that world leaders are going to understand these things and have my best interest at heart.

MICHELLE HARRIS, VOTER: I don't have time to go to JohnKerry.com.

KING: Even in the Internet age, busy moms like Michelle Harris struggle for time to find answers.

HARRIS: I need them to put it right in my face, because I am a mom and I am running around like crazy all day every day.

KING: It's a common complaint around the table, as the conversation rakes from Iraq to taxes to stem cell research and on to abortion and Terrelle Mitchell's thoughts on the role of religion in politics.

MITCHELL: In our neighborhood, I go down, and there are several Bush/Cheney signs, and they have the big green and white Jesus sign.

KING: The sense here is that the middle could and should be a more welcome place in politics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have got the radical left voting in the primaries and the radical right voting in the primaries and we are left with this choice. And that's what polarizing the country.

KING: In this room, plenty of debate than disagreement, but it's more playful than polarized, maybe a lesson in the laughter.

John King, CNN, Clayton, Missouri.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Thank you, John.

And now to an issue of importance to many parents and their voting-age children. Two new polls offer different takes on public concerns about a renewed military draft. A Marist poll found that more than two-thirds of Americans think that it is unlikely that the draft will be reinstated this year, including a majority of draft-age young people.

But an Annenberg survey of adults aged 18-29 found that half of them believe President Bush wants to reinstate the draft. Both Bush and Kerry have said they do not want to return to the draft system.

Well, I will talk about the draft, about tonight's debate and the state of the presidential race next with Bush campaign senior strategist Matthew Dowd and Kerry campaign senior adviser Joe Lockhart.

Also ahead, town hall history. We will look back at a relatively new presidential debate format and how past candidates have fared.

And that's a wrap. What have members of Congress accomplished as they leave the Capitol for the campaign trail?

With 25 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) WOODRUFF: What a beautiful campus this is at Washington University and what an active and passionate group of students out there. We are glad to be with them again for the second day in a row. We are in Saint Louis, the site of tonight's debate.

And joining me now with their take on the debate and state of this race, Bush campaign senior strategist Matthew Dowd and Kerry campaign senior adviser Joe Lockhart.

Let me start, Matthew Dowd, by asking, how do you see the state of the race? There's a new "TIME" magazine poll showing it's deadlocked, 45-45, Kerry picking up a lot of support among women. What's going on?

MATTHEW DOWD, BUSH CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: I think, with this race, the natural ebb and flow of this race is, because, it comes to down to a race that's within two or three points.

We've thought that all along. When we were down, we thought that it was a two-or-three point race. When we were up, we thought it was a two-or-three point -- the natural place of this race is to be close by Election Day. And that is where we think it's going to end up.

WOODRUFF: What do you see?

JOE LOCKHART, KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I think that's right. I think it will be a close race. It will be hard fought. We are encouraged that the trend is going in our direction. In politics, trends are important and you have to do something to stop it. That may happen, but we are very encouraged right now.

WOODRUFF: Matthew Dowd,the president has pretty tough out on the campaign trail the last few days. Are we going to see more of that in tonight's debate or does he run the risk of turning off voters if he's too tough? How does he approach this?

DOWD: I think that what -- people expect that you present a choice in an election like the presidential election, especially this year, with the stakes so high. And I think he really was laying out the choice that we have between leadership, on questions of leadership, policies, and all those different things. And the American public needs to see that choice. They expect that by Election Day. So you will see a lot more of that in the days to come. You will see that tonight.

WOODRUFF: What about John Kerry? He was widely viewed as having done well in this last debate, but he still has not seen -- he still has not reached the so-called commander in chief bar. How does he do that and still come across as warm and likable?

LOCKHART: Well, listen, I think he has reached the commander in chief bar. That's something that he did in the last debate.

I think what we are looking forward to tonight is engaging on domestic issues. We haven't had that conversation with the president on the crisis in health care and the fact that we have got a plan and we don't think he does on jobs. We have got these jobs numbers today, one more set of disappointing numbers assuring that this president is the first president since Herbert Hoover to not create a single job. So we are looking forward to that.

And we think we need to, as all challengers do, we need to continue to fill in the blanks for voters. But we are well ahead of where we thought we would be at this point and we're very encouraged.

WOODRUFF: How do you respond?

DOWD: The interesting thing is, every month for the last 12 months, the Democrats have to tear up their talking points and go back down to a lower number they're talking about. We have had 1.8 million, 1.9 million jobs created in the last 12 or 13 months. That's a very good thing. Is there not more to be done? Yes. But more to be done doesn't mean more taxes, so small businesses can't hire people, can't lower their health care costs, can't do those things. It's interesting that they think a bad number is 100,000 jobs. That means 100,000 more families are working this month.

LOCKHART: Well, I'll tell you something. If you talk to any economist, the economist will tell you that about 150,000 people, just through population, come into this job market. This has been an administration that has accepted falling further and further behind for the middle class.

If look at the corporations and those who are wealthy, they have done fine. We don't need to worry about them. In fact, I think we need to take a little back from them. But for the middle class in America, they continue to struggle. And the idea that somehow the president thinks this is good news shows that he's just out of touch with the middle class in this country. They are struggling. They need a different direction and they're going to vote with us.

DOWD: In order for the Democrats to win, they know they have to downplay every single piece of good news in this country.

Voters don't elect pessimists. They elect optimists. They elect people with a plan. The Democrats' only plan on the economy is more taxes. And their only plan on Iraq is, elect John Kerry.

LOCKHART: Well, I'll tell you, what voters reject the most is when people say we are making progress, it's getting better, we have turned the corner, it's the best economy in our lifetime, and they know it isn't. They know from their own life that it isn't. And that's the difference between John Kerry and President Bush.

WOODRUFF: Matthew Dowd, two new polls out today. People asked about the draft, a Marist College poll. Most Americans don't see likely that there will be a draft reinstated. But an Annenberg survey shows half of young people aged 18-29 think that George Bush wants to reinstate the draft, even though he has said he hasn't. How do you account for that?

DOWD: Well, I don't know why voters -- there's been a lot of discussion on the Internet. The president has made clear he is not going to reinstate the draft. He has said that. He said that at the last debate. He believes the all-volunteer Army is working. It's working very well. The Army did very well in Afghanistan. It's doing very well in Iraq. It's doing very well around the world. The president has stated clearly he is not supportive and does not plan on instituting a draft in his presidency or over the next four years.

WOODRUFF: No difference between the two candidates on this.

LOCKHART: Well, listen, there is a difference. We already have a back-door draft in this country with the National Guard, with people being redeployed, being compelled to stay beyond.

We have nine out of 10 divisions in our military either in Iraq, having just -- getting ready to go in or coming out. We have 40 to 50 percent of our National Guard deployed in Iraq. These are numbers that leave us vulnerable around the world. And if you look at the difference between -- looking forward, John Kerry has talked about adding 40,000 active new troops in order to meet our commitments, because we do have commitments. We've got to fight the global war on terrorism, and that's not in Iraq.

DOWD: The only candidate, Judy, that said they were open to a draft in the last five years was John Kerry. He's also the only candidate said he was open to a draft.

He also was the one that said we need 40,000 more troops. That's what John Kerry said. There is no back-door draft. The president has no plans for a draft. The all-volunteer Army is working. That's the fastest to date...

WOODRUFF: But Paul Bremer said this week and earlier that more troops were needed

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: But Paul Bremer also said today in an op-ed today that he's very supportive of the president. Things are going well. We have the resources that are needed. And as we've said before and the president has said, he pays attention to what the military commanders on the ground say. If they want more troops, they will get more troops. If they need more resources, they will get more resources.

LOCKHART: Judy, it's simple the difference between the two candidates. The president, as Matthew just said, is arguing forcefully that things are going well in Iraq.

The reality is different. And a commander in chief has to have the ability to level with the country and level with the troops when things aren't going well. John Kerry knows that. Because he was a soldier himself, he knows we have to be candid. And we're just not getting that from the president now.

WOODRUFF: Very quick last -- how close can the candidates get to these voters tonight? DOWD: How close -- you mean how

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: Yes, physically close.

DOWD: I really don't know. I don't think it's going to be a mosh pit and they're going to dive into the crowd.

WOODRUFF: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

DOWD: But it will be much better than it was in getting in touch with the voters than the last debate. We're looking forward to it.

LOCKHART: I will give an absolute assurance from our campaign to the president, we will not try to invade his space, like Al Gore did in 2000. I think this is going to be about the voters tonight and that will be great.

WOODRUFF: We have got our own mosh pit here.

LOCKHART: Yes, you do.

WOODRUFF: All right, Joe Lockhart with donkeys on his tie, Matthew Dowd with elephants on his, great to see you both. Thanks a lot.

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: High-stakes showdown, of course, here in Saint Louis. Coming up, a look at the format of tonight's debate. We are going to talk a little more about that, including who is going to be asking the questions. You can count on it being very different from the first debate. At least that's what we think.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Both George Bush and John Kerry have a lot riding on tonight's second presidential debate. The town meeting format is quite different from the standing-at-the-podium style used on September the 30th. But it is a format that has been used over the course of the campaign.

The candidates will be quizzed by members of the audience, a random sample of, well, uncommitted voters -- and we're going to talk about that in a minute -- from the Saint Louis area. The questions were submitted in advance. Half were supposed to deal with foreign policy issues, half with domestic issues.

Those uncommitted voters who are going to be asking the questions in tonight's debate were selected by the Gallup Polling Organization.

And here with me now to talk more about the selection process, the editor in chief, Frank Newport.

Frank, how do you choose these voters?

FRANK NEWPORT, EDITOR IN CHIEF, GALLUP POLL: We did it, Judy, just like we do a survey.

We literally started with a random sample survey of the metropolitan Saint Louis area, excluding Illinois counties, so they are all Missouri voters. And we literally called in, just like we were doing a poll. We asked a series of questions about who you are going to vote for, are you committed, is there a chance you would vote for the other candidate and what have you, and if they met our definition of uncommitted voters, which was agreed to by both campaigns, we then invited them to come to the debate. So it's a true random sample, just like a poll.

WOODRUFF: But you were just telling me that only maybe 10 percent are truly uncommitted, truly don't know which way they're leaning.

NEWPORT: That's right. Yes, we call them uncommitted. But that means the majority of them are people who may have a preference, Judy, but they say there is a chance they would still consider voting for the other candidate. Those are so-called soft Bush, soft Kerry. And there are a few absolute undecideds. That is, they don't even lean one way or the other.

WOODRUFF: Right. So you have got what, 40 percent soft Bush, 40 percent

(CROSSTALK)

NEWPORT: Oh, more than that, more like less than 10 percent are undecided.

WOODRUFF: Are undecided.

NEWPORT: So a majority, over 90 percent, will be either -- or, actually, exactly. We recruited exactly the same numbers. Half of that group will be soft Bush, half soft Kerry.

WOODRUFF: And how do you know they are telling you the truth when they say they're

(CROSSTALK)

NEWPORT: Well, we ask that about all polling.

WOODRUFF: Right.

NEWPORT: We don't -- I mean, we went through the questions. They did not know we were recruiting for the debate until after we got through the process of seeing if they were uncommitted. In fact, a lot of people we called to this day do not know why we were calling them. So went through the process and then invited them after they answered the questions. WOODRUFF: You and I were just talking this. Charlie Gibson of ABC, the moderator, didn't know until this morning what these candidates -- questions were, right.

(CROSSTALK)

NEWPORT: Yes.

We've been with them all morning. Charlie met with them. And this morning, they submitted their questions. We didn't know what their were. The commission didn't. The campaigns didn't. This morning in a sealed envelope, they gave the questions to Charlie. And he is, by the terms of the agreement, to divide them up to make sure they're equal domestic and foreign policy and that they come from roughly equal soft Kerry, soft Bush.

WOODRUFF: Soft Bush. So there is some unpredictability.

NEWPORT: Oh, absolutely, which I think is great.

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: And they won't know -- just to be clear, Frank Newport, the voters won't know until tonight whether they are going to be called on or not. Is that right?

NEWPORT: Absolutely right. There are 140 them you will see tonight surrounding Senator Kerry and President Bush. And they have no idea who Charlie Gibson is going to call on until he says, Judy Woodruff, you are next. And then they stand up and ask the question.

WOODRUFF: So there is some suspense here.

NEWPORT: Oh, absolutely. They were asking questions. I was with them this morning with Charles Gibson. And there were some nerves, but they are all excited. What's great about this format is, it's the people. And I just, as a pollster, I love the voice of the people. They are common people. They're concerned. They're taking it seriously. It's just great.

WOODRUFF: It's very exciting, the only debate like this of this campaign in the general election.

NEWPORT: That's right.

WOODRUFF: OK, Frank Newport, thanks very much.

Well, this is the fourth time that presidential nominees have faced off in front of a town hall audience. So what happened the first three times? Our Bruce Morton takes a look back to give us an idea of what could happen tonight.

And talking about tonight, stick with CNN for complete coverage of the debate. Our prime-time lineup kicks off at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

More INSIDE POLITICS in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: New jobs numbers give both the Bush and Kerry campaign some new ammunition. Will today's report dominate tonight's debate? We will find out in just a few hours inside this room, when the president and the senator from Massachusetts facie off in front of a town hall audience.

Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff, live at Washington University in St. Louis, site of the second presidential debate. With me here at the debate site to look ahead to the Bush- Kerry face-off is our political editor, John Mercurio.

All right, John, you've got a fan club here in the background, or maybe they are here for the candidates. Let's start out, though, John, talking about President Bush. Is his campaign talking about how he is preparing?

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: I think it's sort of interesting, actually. They seem to be -- they seem to be sort of lowering expectations by not talking about expectations. Now, according to aides that I talked to today, he's holding no debate prep sessions whatsoever today. He's just relaxing.

WOODRUFF: Do you believe that?

MERCURIO: I don't necessarily believe that. But it's what I am being told.

Now, the campaign strategists -- you just had Matt Dowd on here a couple of minutes ago -- they've been holding conference calls in Miami and in Cleveland. Today they decided not to hold a call at all, not to try to offer the reporters covering this any sort of early spin on the debate. So it's interesting. They are sort of, I think, removing themselves from the pre-spin process, perhaps because it didn't do them very well back in Miami.

WOODRUFF: What about -- yes.

MERCURIO: One of the things sort of interesting, President Bush was touring the debate site earlier today, I'm told, and it was emphasized by the one aid that I talked to that he was smiling quite a bit. He's practicing his smile. He won't be scowling tonight whatsoever. He also practiced a line on stage that I was told that he unveiled earlier this week in Pennsylvania in which he talked about how somebody listening to Senator Kerry's flip-flops, his outrageous flip-flops, you can be -- you can understand how they would make a face.

WOODRUFF: You can understand how they would make a face.

MERCURIO: Yes.

WOODRUFF: What about the Kerry people? What are they doing -- or what are they saying that he's doing? MERCURIO: Well, they've got a couple of surprises up their sleeves tonight that we're going to be hearing. First of all, Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton, is making her first appearance during the debate. She wasn't in Miami, she wasn't in Cleveland. She flew into St. Louis early this morning, and she will be in the spin room tonight for the Kerry campaign.

Now, secondly, somebody -- I don't know if it's the DNC or the Kerry campaign -- has a little bit too much time on their hands. They are handling out a flyer, sort of interesting...

WOODRUFF: And you happen to have a copy of it.

MERCURIO: ... interesting little flyer. And I happen to have a copy of it.

WOODRUFF: Yes.

MERCURIO: They're handing out a flyer today showing George W.'s amazing rose-colored glasses. They're also handing out -- I'm not going to wear these, because I'm a serious journalist -- but they're also handing out these rose-colored glasses that a lot of reporters I was looking -- I was talking to earlier have already put on their face.

WOODRUFF: So the spinning continues either in full bloom or in a more quiet form.

MERCURIO: Exactly.

WOODRUFF: Is the bottom line. All right. John Mercurio, our political editor.

MERCURIO: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: We'll see whether you put those glasses on at all. Thanks a lot.

Well, checking the headlines now -- well, let's try to get this straight. All right.

Tonight's format is a relatively new way for presidential candidates to debate. Our Bruce Morton has more on the previous town hall face-offs and the way the candidates have responded.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first one was in 1992, questions to candidates from actual real live voters.

CAROL SIMPSON, MODERATOR: We're making history now and it's pretty exciting. An independent polling firm has selected an audience of 209 uncommitted voters from this area. The candidates will be asked questions by these voters on a topic of their choosing.

MORTON: Maybe the most famous question was a plea for content. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we focus on the issues and not the personalities and the mud?

MORTON: Maybe the most famous moment was when President Bush looked at his watch. Bored, impatient?

They had a town meeting debate in 1996, too, but Bob Dole never seemed likely to win that election and the campaign never caught fire. In 2000, well, some clashes, some sparks then.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In eight years they haven't gotten anything done on Medicare, on Social Security, a patient's bill of rights. It's time to get something done.

JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR: All right -- hey, we're going to move on now.

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to answer that, Jim. Medicare -- we -- I cast the tie-breaking vote to add 26 years to the life of Medicare.

MORTON: And a wise request from a schoolteacher whose kids are too young to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. My sixth grade class at St. Claire School (ph) wanted to ask, of all these promises you guys are making, and all the pledges, will you keep them when you are in office?

MORTON: You've probably noticed that in those earlier town meeting-style debates, the candidates moved around toward each other, towards the audience. This time they are supposed to stay seated, but restraining straps, they say, will not be used. What can we expect?

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: I would expect the unexpected. Real people ask unusual questions, different kinds of questions.

I think you can expect the two contenders to try to relate to the people, to talk to them. And that's a very different setting than we normally have in politics, which is much more artificial, much more straight interview. Expect the unexpected.

MORTON: Will somebody win big? Lose big? Look at his watch? That's why debates are more fun that most campaign stuff. You never know.

Bruce Morton, CNN Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, checking the headlines now in our "Campaign News Daily" this Friday, George Bush and John Kerry are neck and neck in several new showdown state polls. But Kerry is holding onto the lead in New Jersey.

In New Mexico, the latest CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll gives Bush a three-point lead among likely voters and a one-point edge among the larger group of registered voters.

In Wisconsin, the Bush lead over Kerry stands at three points among both registered and likely voters.

And a new Rutgers poll for the "Newark Star-Ledger" finds Kerry leading Bush in New Jersey by six points among likely voters. Kerry's lead in New Jersey has varied anywhere from two to 20 points since early summer.

Military brass strngly urging U.S. personnel to vote in the upcoming presidential election. "The New York Times" reports the Pentagon is pushing for 100 percent voter participation at many U.S. bases around the world. "The Times" says that the military is using e-mail, radio and TV ads, pamphlets and banners to encourage servicemen and women to cast a ballot.

California voters appear happy with their high-profile governor, but they apparently don't want him to run for the White House. Fifty percent of Californians say they would not be -- or they would be inclined not to support Arnold Schwarzenegger for president. Twenty- six percent said they would. A Field poll also found that 58 percent of Californians would oppose amending the Constitution so that naturalized citizens such as Schwarzenegger could run for president.

Back in Washington, members of Congress are preparing to adjourn and leave town, but they still have some work to do. Our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, has more from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Members of Congress are dashing home for the election, with Republicans touting their victories to voters.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: So when we look back over the last two years, we are very pleased.

HENRY: Republicans point to the Medicare prescription drug benefit, two tax cuts and the 9/11 intelligence reform bill. But the 9/11 bill is not a done deal. It has an uncertain fate because of major differences between the House and Senate versions. And Democrats are pounding away at the GOP's failure to pass a budget, most spending bills, as well as highway and energy legislation.

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MINORITY WHIP: In 2004, House Republicans worked fewer days than any single session of Congress since 1948. President Harry Truman called the Republican Congress do-nothing Congress. Today, you might call this Republican Congress the do-less- than-nothing Congress.

HENRY: In fact, Congress is so far behind on work that it won't adjourn for long. Both chambers are likely to return right before the election to work out final details on intelligence reform. Then they will come back after the election to wrap up budget matters. Republicans counter the delays have been caused by Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Time and time again, Tom Daschle used procedural measures that have never been used in the history of the Senate to stop positive bipartisan reforms from happening.

HENRY: But Democrats point out Republicans run the White House and both chambers of Congress.

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Only in Washington would Republicans who control everything, the White House, the House, and the Senate, blame Democrats who control nothing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Judy, the House is voting right now on the 9/11 intelligence reform bill. It looks like it's going to pass easily. So the House will actually get out of session, but the Senate is currently tied up into knots.

The majority leader, Brill Frist, is so frustrated. He's threatening to keep the chamber in session over the weekend. And some senators saying they could be stuck in town until Tuesday or Wednesday -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Why does it so often seem to end this way? OK.

HENRY: That's right.

WOODRUFF: Ed Henry, thank you very much.

American jobs, an issue that is likely to create sparks at tonight's presidential debate. Just ahead, who will get the most mileage out of the figures released today? We will hear from both the Bush administration and the Kerry campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The campus of Washington University here in St. Louis. This is a crowd with opinions.

Well, as we mentioned earlier, the last employment report before Election Day shows that American companies and the government total added 96,000 jobs in September. That is lower than many economists expected.

John Kerry says it's another indication of Bush's failed economic policies. The Bush campaign argues that the Labor Department report shows the economy continues to improve.

We're going to hear from the Kerry campaign in just a moment. But joining me now, White House budget director, Josh Bolten.

Josh Bolten, there were 96,000 jobs created, but it wasn't what some economists had forecast. A third of these jobs are government jobs. Are you discouraged by this? JOSH BOLTEN, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: No. In fact, I think the only folks that ought to be discouraged are the Kerry -- are the Kerry campaign, because they have been trying to talk the economy down for sometime.

This is a good, solid number, almost 100,000 people working than were before. And the important thing is not to focus on just one month, and particularly a month in which we had four hurricanes that badly affected the economy, but look out over the course of the year or so.

What you see is that over the last 13 months, this economy has created 1.9 million jobs. That's -- particularly coming from where we've been, that's a good, strong record. And because we've got the right policies in place, economic growth looks strong, I think we'll see even better numbers going out into the future.

WOODRUFF: But you're familiar with what the Democrats, what the Kerry campaign is saying. They are saying that, as of now, George Bush would finish this first term in office having lost jobs. The first president to do so in 72 years with a net loss.

BOLTEN: Well, I mean, that's a nice political talking point, but the analogy to Hoover isn't the right one. Hoover left behind a recession. This president inherited one and turned it around, also dealt with the September 11 attacks, also dealt with a corporate climate that was damaged by corporate scandals that had been years in the making.

So I think the president, when he speaks tonight, will have an economic record that he can be proud of because of what he's done to turn around what could have been a very bad situation. We've got a pretty good economic situation right now.

We have the strongest economic growth, strongest GDP growth in almost 20 years. We've got employment down at 5.4 percent, which is lower than the average unemployment rate of the 70s, 80s and 90s. We've got very strong ownership, record highs. We've got low inflation, low mortgage rates.

Job growth has been sluggish through some of this recovery, but it's looking -- it's looking steady now. It looks like it should come back stronger. So there's a lot of good economic news to talk about if you can get past the political heys of folks trying to talk the economy down.

WOODRUFF: Well, all that may be. Today, though, in "The Washington Post," there's an extensive report on President Bush's tax policy and what that has done to balloon the deficit. Among other things, the article goes on to talk about that the -- that the White House has now ordered draft budgets for the coming fiscal year that would cut spending on homeland security, veteran's affairs and education. In other words, the deficit, which we don't hear a lot about from the administration, is going to create some pain down the road. BOLTEN: Well, we've always got to be fiscally responsible. And, by the way, the draft budgeting that was referred to in "The Post" this morning is just the routine exercise that occurred in the Clinton administration and every administration that I'm aware of, where my office goes out to the agencies and says, bring your budgets down and let's see where we build up from there.

So no policy decisions are involved in all of that. We'll see where the budgets come out when they do come out.

The important point is that we can meet our priorities and retain fiscal responsibility in a way that the president has demonstrated in the budgets that I presented on his behalf. We've seen discretionary spending -- that's the non-security-related spending in our budget.

The last Clinton budget was growing at 15 percent. The president brought that down progressively so that the budget I presented on his behalf seven or eight months ago was down below one percent growth, which is holding it responsible, still meeting our priorities. We need to do that to be sure that we take care of our deficit situation.

The other side of the equation is that we need to keep economic growth going. Because that is really the key to making our budget situation all right. If we've got good economic growth, we are going to get the revenues. Increasing taxes at this point in our cycle is exactly the wrong thing to do.

WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to leave it there. Josh Bolten is the White House budget director. And we thank you for talking to us. We appreciate it.

Josh Bolten telling me he may be coming to St. Louis tonight, but he then may have to watch what's going on, on the Hill, with all the appropriations negotiations up there.

Coming up next, Kerry campaign economics adviser, Roger Altman, with his take on the jobs report.

And more INSIDE POLITICS continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Some news to report from Capitol Hill. The House of Representatives have passed now by a 2-1 margin legislation reforming the intelligence gathering in this country. This follows passage by the Senate of legislation with different language in it.

So it now is going to have to go to a conference committee. Whether that will be before or after the election remains to be seen.

Well, joining me now with the Kerry campaign reaction to today's jobs report -- we just heard from budget director Josh Bolten -- but joining me now, Kerry economics adviser and former deputy Treasury secretary, Roger Altman.

It's good to see you. Thank you very much. ROGER ALTMAN, KERRY ECONOMICS ADVISER: Good to be here. Thanks for having me.

WOODRUFF: You were able to hear what Josh Bolten said.

ALTMAN: I was.

WOODRUFF: I mean, basically, he said what John Kerry is doing is just running everything down, seeing the gloomy side rather than the plus side of what this administration has done under very difficult circumstances.

ALTMAN: Well, Judy, I think it's just about the facts. I don't think it's talking the economy down or over -- being overly pessimistic about it. It's just reality. And I think the American people all feel that.

I mean, for the fourth month in a row, through this morning's job report, we see that the percentage of Americans working in this country has gone down, not up. And that's simply because population growth is outstripping the rate of growth in jobs. Job growth is anemic.

So when they say we've turned the corner, or as Don Evans likes to say, "It's the best economy of my lifetime," the reality is just not that. And it's not a successful jobs record.

And as you asked him yourself, he is going to be the first president since Herbert Hoover to see jobs decline in a four-year term. And if you think about the 11 presidents that have come between Hoover and President Bush here, some of them have faced world wars, Vietnam War, Korean War, much worse recessions than Bush did. They didn't see jobs decline over a four-year term. Those are just facts.

WOODRUFF: But you heard him say, look, this president has had to deal with 9/11, he's had to deal with a lot of uncertainty in the world. And he said it's more important -- and corporate scandals. Ad he said, look, it's more important to look at this over a long term rather than month by month. And he said there has been growth.

ALTMAN: But the answer to that is, just let's look at the last three or four months. Because 9/11, as grievous as it was, has nothing to do with the last three or four months, the corporate scandals, the tech bubble, all the other things they mention. It doesn't have anything to do with that.

So just in the last three or four months, which is most relevant, because the election is three weeks off, as I say, the percentage of Americans working in this country has gone down and not up. And also, family incomes have gone down and not up. That's just in the last three or four months, and those are, as President Reagan used to say, stubborn facts.

WOODRUFF: Roger Altman, since I've been in Missouri since yesterday morning, I have seen one television ad after another by the Bush-Cheney campaign going after John Kerry for raising taxes. One ad this morning, a mother sitting in her car with the kids in the back seat. She's hearing all about John Kerry voting for something like 600 tax increases.

Are you concerned as somebody who supports Kerry that that is an impression that's now cemented out there?

ALTMAN: No, I don't think so. It's true, they say it. And you're right, they say it every five minutes. And of course it's not true.

Kerry has been -- Senator Kerry has been very clear about what he is going to do and what he is not going to do. He has proposed to roll back Bush tax cuts for the top two percent of taxpayers in this country, those earning $200,000 a year or more, and only those. The other 98 percent of American taxpayers would get a tax cut.

He's been clear about that from the beginning. I think the American people are hearing that. I think they will hear more about that tonight in the debate.

And I think they are not going to believe that Senator Kerry's going to raise taxes on all Americans. They know he's not going to do that.

They know that we are only talking about rolling back those taxes for just the wealthiest. And we also know that it presents a choice. Do we want to roll those levels back just for the wealthiest to the levels that prevailed when President Clinton left office in order to do health care and do education? Or do we want to stick with the tax cuts that the wealthiest got?

I think that's a clear choice. I think the American people are going to side in favor of Senator Kerry's position.

WOODRUFF: All right. We are hearing two different views of the Clinton term as well. Roger Altman, who is advising John Kerry on economic matters, thank you very much.

ALTMAN: Thanks for having me.

WOODRUFF: It's good to see you here in St. Louis. We appreciate it.

Well, when Bush and Kerry square off here in this city tonight at this college, Washington University, it's going to be uncommitted voters, soft Bush, and soft Kerry, as well, who are going to be asking the questions. But the debate moderator still holds a good deal of sway.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, a man who has sat in the moderator's chair and has left his mark on debate history. My former CNN colleague, Bernard Shaw.

Plus, test of friendship in the "Political Play of the Week."

Be sure to stay with CNN for complete prime-time coverage from St. Louis beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern through the debate at 9:00 Eastern, and on into the night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Five hours from now inside this room President Bush and Senator Kerry face off in front of a town hall audience. We'll preview tonight's fury in Missouri.

He's put the presidential candidates on the spot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, if Judy Dukakis (ph) were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?

ANNOUNCER: We'll talk with IT's own Bernie Shaw who has moderated two debates.

Now, live from St. Louis, site of tonight's presidential debate, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. Here at Washington University where President Bush and Senator Kerry face another crucial test of their debating skills five hours from now. In an apparent rehearsal for tonight, Kerry went before the cameras a bit earlier to go after the president on jobs citing a new employment report, the last to be released before election day.

Among other things, the report shows smaller than expected job growth last month, the month of September.

Look for President Bush to offer a much rosier take on the latest jobs report when he faces off with Kerry tonight. Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent John King. John, I don't think there's any doubt about that.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No doubt at all. The Bush camp knows the reviews of the last debate were quite bad and quite damaging to the president politically. We see that in the polls. They know tonight he has to be much better both in terms of style and in substance. Aides say the president is in good spirits. He's a very competitive man. He understands what happened last week. They say he's very much looking forward to tonight. He took a tour of the debate hall earlier today. He was joking about those faces he made during last week's debate.

Aides say the president has two big challenges. Let's go jobs first since you mentioned that. They know of course Senator Kerry will highlight modest job growth last month. A net job loss in the Bush presidency and what Mr. Bush will say we are told is that the economy was in a recession earlier in his term and then the September 11 attacks. He'll emphasize the trend line, more than 1.7 million jobs created since last year and then he'll pivot and say that if you elect Senator Kerry president, things will get worse because in his view Senator Kerry would raise taxes and stifle the economic growth going on.

A bigger challenge aides say is to deal with Iraq in a much more comprehensive way. They say the president did not do that last week and he must make the case to the American people about why he went to war in the first place, why he rejected some recommendations that he send in more troops and what his plan is now to crush the insurgency and get Iraq on path to Democracy.

The Bush campaign and the Republicans concede Senator Kerry has done a better job in the past few weeks in framing the Iraq debate. As the president makes his case tonight aides say he must first explain and defend his policy and then he will say that everything the voters have been hearing from Senator Kerry in recent days is inconsistent with his record in the Senate and his statements earlier in this presidential campaign.

They understand the president has lost momentum. This debate is now critical to them. The president simply cannot have a poor performance tonight.

WOODRUFF: Do they think -- we have heard so much about this town meeting format and how the president has had a lot of experience speaking before a large crowd and answering questions, most of them friendly -- do they think that this format works in his favor?

KING: They do think it helps him. Senator Kerry also has quite a bit of town hall experience. So both candidates are comfortable in this setting. One of the things aides say in trying to explain why the president was off his game last week is that the candidates were up on stage with the moderator. The audience was in the dark. They say that was a bit unnerving. This will be a setting in which the president can move around on stage, can interact a little bit with the voters. They say he's much more comfortable in this setting. They believe it will be much more friendly in terms of keeping eye contact with people in the audience perhaps avoiding some of those angry and annoyed faces that we saw during last week's. So they like this format. They don't think he has any advantage over Senator Kerry in this format but it is a format in which the president performs frequently. We should note though, when the president has those "Ask President Bush" events on the road he's facing questions from supporters. Very rarely does he face a tough or a hostile question. We'll see if there's a different tone from the audience tonight.

WOODRUFF: That we shall. Thank you very much. We're both at Washington University. You can see the sign behind John. Just hours before the showdown here in St. Louis. A survey by "The Hotline" shows Kerry leading Bush in electoral votes for a second straight day. Based on the most recent state polled, "Hotline" reports Kerry leading in 19 locations, 18 states plus the District of Columbia. Now that would give him 245 of the 270 electoral votes we know are needed to win. "Hotline" found Bush ahead in 26 states with a total of 218 electoral votes. Six battle grounds are still rated as toss ups.

An updated version of CNN's electoral map will be unveiled tonight on "PAULA ZAHN NOW" at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. President Bush is hoping to score points with voters tonight on the subject of Iraq as we've been telling you and take the sting out of a somewhat embarrassing week in the process. Here now our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, President Bush has been put on the defensive this week about the decision to go to war in Iraq. But the political play of the week was not the Democrats doing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): President Bush's friends and allies have put thrown him on the defensive about the war in Iraq. On Monday former occupation administrator Paul Bremer told an audience, "we never had enough troops on the ground in Iraq to prevent looting and lawlessness." Bremer later described his criticism as a tactical disagreement. The same day Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked to describe the connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.

SCHNEIDER: Then Charles Duelfer who was chosen by the Bush administration to complete the investigation of Iraq's weapons program dropped his own bombshell.

CHARLES DUELFER, U.S. WEAPONS HUNTER: It is clear that Saddam chose not to have weapons at a point in time before the war.

SCHNEIDER: Duelfer's Iraq survey group reported that Saddam Hussein had ended Iraq's nuclear program in 1991 and found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program. The report said Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991 and found no direct evidence that Iraq after 1996 had plans for a new biological weapons program. Duelfer did report this about Saddam Hussein.

DUELFER: He clearly had ambitions with respect to weapons of mass destruction.

SCHNEIDER: But actual weapons?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Turns out there not were no active stockpiles that anyone has been able to find yet.

SCHNEIDER: To Tony?

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The evidence about Saddam having actual biological and chemical weapons as opposed to the capability to develop them has turned out to be wrong. I acknowledge that. I accept it.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush hasn't acknowledged any mistakes.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Based on all the information we have today I believe we were right to take action.

SCHNEIDER: His Democratic opponent expressed astonishment.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president of the United States and the vice president of the United States may well be the last two people on the planet who won't face the truth about Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: But it wasn't the Democrats to created this problem for President Bush. It was his friends. They get the political play of the week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: With friends like these, who needs Democrats -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Indeed. Friends like these. Bill Schneider. Thank you very much. We're counting down to the presidential debate sequel here in St. Louis. Still ahead, my former CNN colleague Bernard Shaw shares his insights about debates from a two-time moderator's point of view.

Plus more on the expectations game. Can Bush or Kerry defy the conventional wisdom tonight.

And later talk about your ballot boo-boos: the case of the missing candidates, ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: I'm still here on the great campus of Washington University in St. Louis, but joining me now from Washington is a familiar face to INSIDE POLITICS viewers, Bernard Shaw moderated a presidential debate and a vice presidential debate during his long career in broadcast jounrnalism. Of course, he was also a long-time anchor of this program right here on CNN.

Bernie, welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS. Come back anytime.

BERNARD SHAW, FMR. CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Judy, always good to be back with you.

WOODRUFF: Bernie, let's talk about this format tonight. It is different. We have been discussing it from the first face-off we saw between John Kerry and George W. Bush in that the candidate are going to be seated on stools.

They're going to be able -- they're going to be taking questions from voters and they're going to be able to move around. How does that change what we should expect?

SHAW: I think it changes the dynamic in this sense. When you're seated around a round table with a moderator, you have the tendency to be precise and concise.

However, when you are in a town hall setting and you have the ability to stand away from the stool to take a few steps in front of you and to relate to the audience, guess what you're doing? You're consuming precious time. And you run the risk of becoming somewhat long-winded.

WOODRUFF: Now Bernie, we know that -- so you're saying Charlie Gibson of ABC, who's the moderator, may have to crack the whip. We didn't heard a lot of that in the first debate.

SHAW: Did not because they were right there in front of the moderator, plus they had the tally lights that went from green to red to flashing red.

But when the president and the senator are addressing the questions from the audience tonight, they're not going to be looking at a camera, they're going to be looking at the person to whom they're responding. And when you do that, the moderator will -- count the number of times that Charles Gibson tonight as moderator will have to remind either the president or the senator that his time has run out.

WOODRUFF: Bernie, what about the pressure on this moderator, on Charlie Gibson? Frank Newport was telling us earlier in the program that he didn't even get the questions from these 140 people until this morning. And it was up to him to narrow them down to 20 within the guidelines of what the candidates had asked for?

SHAW: All of these moderators, from Jim Lehrer to Gwen Ifill to Charles Gibson to Bob Schieffer, are consummate pros. They are thoroughbreds when it comes to journalism. I have no questions about his ability.

Tonight Charles Gibbon will have to be sure that he doesn't have a wild card questioner in there. We know the parameters are what, economy. foreign policy, domestic policy, and homeland defense. So he has got those parameters to deal with.

WOODRUFF: Bernie, what about these rules -- you know, I looked again at that agreement today. It's 32 -- 33 pages long, single- spaced. It covers just about everything you can imagine. Can we still expect to see a real exchange between these candidates given the tight strictures at least that the campaigns wanted?

SHAW: Judy, those rules are a lawyer's delight. What, they were negotiated by lawyers. What else would we expect? But in this format tonight I think spontanaeity and, dare I say, even candor might erupt on that stage.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAW: Partly egged on by American voters who want to ask some very serious questions of these candidates, questions that in many ways in the voters' minds have not gone answered. So I expect that just being there with breathing voters these guys are going to respond and you are going to see some exchanges, perhaps even more engaging than what we saw with the vice presidents.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly, Bernard Shaw, a non-debate question. This is the first election in a long time that you haven't been involved in covering. You're talking to real people pretty often about this campaign. How much interest are you picking up on out there?

SHAW: Intense interest and also exasperation. Not being able with certainty to say candidate A or candidate B is going to win the election come November.

Personally, I think that by 9:00 the next morning after the election, I don't think we will know then by the next morning who are next president is going to be be.

WOODRUFF: Please don't tell us that, Bernie. A lot of us who have been covering this campaign are ready for it to be over on the night of November 2. But believe me, we're going to remember that fot prediction that you made.

Bernard Shaw, my good friend, very dear friend and longtime co- anchor here on INSIDE POLITICS, great to have you back.

SHAW: Thank you. Always good to come home.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Bernie. We appreciate it.

Coming up next, some reporters weigh in on the second presidential showdown. Up next I'll preview the debate with two print reporters who have been following every development in this campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Can't say there's not interest in this election on this campus, Washington University in St. Louis. Two reporters with me now to talk about tonight's debate. They are Liz Marlantes of the "Christian Science Monitor," Vince Morris of the "New York Post."

Vince, tonight, how is it going to change the dynamics? We have talked about this with Bernie Shaw and others. Do you expect a different kind of debate because of the format?

VINCE MORRIS, "NEW YORK POST": It's a little more free willing. And everybody is wondering whether one of the people who identified themselves as an undecided voter will actually be a partisan on one side or the other and may try to throw a really tough question or make a political statement during the Q&A session. So I'm going to be watching for that and also to see whether President Bush does better than he did last time. He was awful last time. He can only get better. It will be a question of how good he is and how comfortable he is in that format.

WOODRUFF: Do you agree expectations lower for President Bush so he probably will do better?

LIZ MARLANTES, "CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Yes although the one thing I would add to that is that Bush -- most people have been saying that he's likely to do better in a town hall format, that it suits his style better because it's more informal. It lets him show off his more genial side. So there's an expectation still that this is a format that is somehow slightly better suited to Bush. I'm not sure I agree with that. I actually think Kerry is quite good in town hall formats. But I do think that the expectations game has been a little bit affected by the fact that most people still think Bush, town hall, that's a better match.

WOODRUFF: Vince, how much pressures are these campaigns feeling right now?

MORRIS: I think the pressure is still on Kerry. Bush is still in the lead. I thin he still feels pretty comfortable. He wants to do better tonight. Generally, I think the challenge is really still for John Kerry. He has to come back with another strong performance in order to keep the momentum going. He knows that better than anyone. He knows that President Bush is a very genial guy. And no one will take that away from him and this format really plays to his strengths.

MARLANTES: The pressure is on Bush also in the sense that two bad debate performances in a row would be very bad. Obviously he doesn't want that to happen so he needs to do moderately well to very well tonight.

WOODRUFF: Liz, let's talk about Missouri. We have a lot of students that go to school here at Washington University. What about the state of Missouri? The Bush campaign is still running a lot of ads. We were just discussing. The Kerry campaign is doing what?

VINCE: They're really not doing a lot. I think they wish Missouri was closer. My understanding in talking to people here is that the issue of gay marriage has really clobbered John Kerry here. There was referendum here in Missouri and it passed overwhelmingly, over 70 percent. There's a real indication that voters here are a lot more conservative on that issue. And that plays to President Bush. He's in favor of a ban. John Kerry I think has struggled in part because of that vote.

MARLANTES: The other think I was going to add to that is that Kerry has been underperforming a little bit among African-Americans. That's one of the ways the Democrats are able to say competitive in Missouri is that they perform well among the African-American community. A lot of people expect to see Kerry tonight actually make an effort to reach out to that community more because in general he still needs to do better among African-Americans.

WOODRUFF: Surprises tonight? Questions out of blue? What are you looking for?

MORRIS: As I said, I would like to see one of the people in the audience throw a question that's not expected. They have been screened and we're told the microphones will be yanked if they go off the question that they prepared in advance. I would like to see someone do that. I would like to see them throw some tough questions out. I think they screen questions to tone down the rhetoric but I would like to see someone confront both candidates with some really tough questions. MARLANTES: I was going to say this debate I think is coming at a really interesting time. One of the things about a town hall is it is much more convenient to joking or it's an intimate setting. You would expect to see the candidates joke around with the audience or try to express a more sort of personal human side.

It's coming at a time when the campaign has suddenly gotten very negative and very harsh in a way. I'm not sure how those two things are going to collide tonight because I think a strongly negative attack in a town hall setting could really misfire. I'm not sure how the candidates will handle that. It could produce some interesting surprises.

WOODRUFF: I was wondering the same thing listening to some of the things we've been hearing especially from President Bush yesterday but we'll see. We only have a few hours to wait. Great to see you both. Thank you very much. We'll talk to you soon.

Some election officials here in the state of Missouri have reason to be red-faced. We'll tell you about a ballot slip up likely to add insult to injury for one of the presidential candidates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Now, the case of the missing candidates. Believe it or not, officials in one Missouri county sent out absentee ballots without noticing an obvious oversight. The names of President Bush and Vice President Cheney were left off. Fortunately for the Republicans, some voters were paying attention and noticed the error. Now Carter County officials are preparing to send corrected absentee ballots along with a letter explaining that it was a mistake and not an intentional effort to slight Bush and Cheney. That is a no-no.

And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS this Friday at Washington University. The debate just hours away. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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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