Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Analysis of Second Presidential Debate
Aired October 8, 2004 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Couple of quick thoughts. We have an outstanding group of guests tonight, starting with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. And then later, we'll be joined by Marc Racicot, the chairman of the Bush-Cheney election campaign, Senator Bob Kerrey. We'll have Karen Hughes.
Candy Crowley is our CNN senior correspondent. What's new in the spin room, Candy, before we talk with Hillary?
CANDY CROWLEY, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, I'm sitting right (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because we couldn't get out (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the president and the senator stayed so long to say hello and good-bye and thank you to the town hall guests that we all got stuck in the hall because you can't move until they're out of the hall. It was sort of like a game of town hall chicken. It seemed like nobody wanted to be the first one to leave the stage. But the president has now left, and Senator Kerry is still there.
So we're still in the hall, but I can tell you that the spin is that the Kerry people believe he won, and the Bush people believe he won.
KING: What a shock!
CROWLEY: It's -- I have to tell you, just from watching it in this hall, I thought this was the best debate of the three, in terms of getting to the real differences between these two men. I thought they both were forceful. I think, probably, in the end, this will end up being a base election. That is, how many of your true believers can you get out? And I thought both of them did themselves a lot of good with their bases.
KING: Thank you, Candy Crowley, as always, on top of the scene.
We now go to the debate hall, and we check in with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, the former first lady, looking very well tonight. Before we ask about anything else, how is President Clinton doing?
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Oh, Larry, he's doing so well. Every day, he gets stronger and he walks further and he feels better. I know you can relate to that. And I want to thank you for your many kind comments. He really enjoyed talking with you that night from the hospital. And we certainly have learned a lot about heart disease, and I hope that we'll be able to join with you in doing more to educate people about what they can do to protect themselves and how to deal with this disease.
KING: That would be wonderful. When is the president going to go out and campaign, or is he?
CLINTON: You know, Larry, he goes back to the doctor in about 10 days for his routine check-up, his six-week check-up, and we're really going to be guided by their advice. And I'm so pleased that Bill has really made it clear he's going to do what the doctors advise, and he doesn't want to rush -- he wants to be as fully recovered as possible. He's obviously on the phone. He's offering advice. He's talking to the campaign and to supporters around the country.
And he -- I think that, certainly, the debate performance tonight, just like the one last Thursday, will speed his recovery because Senator Kerry did so well, and it really -- I know because I watched it with him on Thursday night at home. He was so excited and so delighted at the clear contrast and the strong presence that Senator Kerry presented. And I just spoke with him here, and he felt that, you know, Senator Kerry hit it out of the park tonight.
KING: The president felt that?
CLINTON: Yes. Yes. I mean, you know, last Thursday, we saw Senator Kerry as a strong commander-in-chief. Tonight we saw that he has an equal command over domestic issues. He came forward with the plans that he has been talking about and presenting to the American people now during his campaign about how to get the economy producing jobs, how to deal with health care costs, how to make sure the education, educational needs of our country are met and all of the issues that these very impressive questioners asked him today in St. Louis.
KING: All right, do you -- how do you assess the president tonight? Everyone said he was weaker -- was he stronger tonight than last week?
CLINTON: Well, Larry, I think the president had a real opportunity tonight. He obviously was energized, but that didn't translate into plans for the future. He couldn't, again, think of anything he'd done wrong in his three-and-a-half years. He didn't present any alternatives about how he would proceed differently in the next four years. He didn't give the American people any reason to believe that there would be the kind of change that everybody knows we need in this country.
We've got to have a different approach to the world. We've got to have a different formula for being strong at home and creating economic prosperity. I mean, that's as clear as it can be. And the president, you know, tonight failed to really give the voters who were watching, trying to make up their minds, any reason to believe that he would be able to offer anything new.
In contrast, Senator Kerry came forward with the detailed plans that he's been working on. He presented them forcefully. He's obviously so knowledgeable about what needs to be done. He's going to hit the ground running when he's elected. KING: How do you assess what's going to happen on November 2? What's your read on this election?
CLINTON: Well, Larry, I've always thought this was going to be a close election. I'm confident that Senator Kerry's going to win, and he's going to win because he's done a terrific job in communicating effectively. Increasingly, the plans that he's been working on are getting through to people. He's connecting with people. I don't know how anyone could watch this debate tonight and not see what I know about John Kerry, which is that he gets it, he understands what people are going through. He knows that he has to fight for the middle class because, certainly, the president has abandoned the middle class.
I mean, you just can't look at the statistics -- we've had a -- you know, a dismal job creation record. We've had health care costs exploding. We've had more people losing insurance, more people falling into poverty, tuition costs going up. I mean, you just list the things that my constituents talk to me about, and I think it's -- on election day, people are going to say, Look, we've got to have a change. You know, we can't take four more years of the wrong direction from this president.
KING: Will it be a very close electoral vote?
CLINTON: I think that -- based on the recent information, I think that it will be a close but significant win for Senator Kerry. I think that a lot of the so-called battleground states are beginning to break his way. You know, that first debate gave most Americans their first chance to see John Kerry unfiltered. You know, no more attack ads from people with axes to grind. No more campaign spin from the other side.
You know, what they got to see the two men, not in a partisan setting, like a convention, speaking to the faithful, but standing their on the stage, going head to head. And guess what? The American people saw in John Kerry a person that they can trust to be their commander-in-chief and a person with the understanding of what's going on in the world, as well as here at home, and with the plans to move us in a new direction.
And all the good feeling that came out of that first debate I think was multiplied tonight. John Kerry was the clear winner. He demonstrated a mastery of domestic issues, and the president was, you know, pretty much left to just say the same things over and over again.
KING: Good seeing you, Senator Clinton. Give our best to the president.
CLINTON: I will, Larry. Thank you so much.
KING: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the junior senator from the state of New York.
More panel, more discussion ahead on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. By the way, next Wednesday night, we'll be on again at 11:00, except we'll be in Tempe, Arizona, at Arizona State University, doing this program live from the site of the final debate.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The president didn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he's really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception. And the result is that you've been bombarded with advertisements suggesting that I've changed a position on this or that or the other.
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can see why people at your workplace think he changes positions a lot because he does. He said he voted for the $87 billion and voted against it right before he voted for it. That sends a confusing signal to people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We now welcome Marc Racicot to our little gathering here. Marc is the chairman of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, a former governor who was mentioned tonight in this debate by Senator Kerry, who mentioned that you were opposed to -- to parts of the Patriot Act. Do you want to clear that up for us?
MARC RACICOT, CHAIRMAN, BUSH-CHENEY '04 CAMPAIGN: Well, that -- I will guess Exhibit A why you should be very careful about what Senator Kerry says. The fact of the matter (UNINTELLIGIBLE) close to accurate. In my remembrance, we were talking about whether or not Congress would ever reauthorize and what they would do in the process of that reauthorization in Dearborn, Michigan, is my memory, about 18 months ago. And I said, Well, they would take a look and listen to testimony, and if there were any difficulties, they would address them then. So he went a little bit beyond -- in fact, some significant measure beyond what it was that I had to say about the Patriot Act.
KING: Were you surprised that he mentioned you?
RACICOT: I was surprised. Of course, to be honest with you, and to be as respectful as possible, they are as opportunistic as you can imagine and trying to find any potential opportunity, even though it may be a slight ledge on a cliff to stand on, I've found (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the past. So it's I guess not altogether surprising. But it also is probably pretty desperate to rely on me for your arguments in the campaign.
KING: Hang with us, Marc. Let's check in with Karen Hughes...
KING: ... old friend and senior adviser to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.
I'm not going to be shocked, Karen, if you tell us you think your man did well tonight.
KAREN HUGHES, SENIOR ADVISER, BUSH-CHENEY '04 CAMPAIGN: Well, Larry, I think absolutely President Bush dominated tonight's debate. And on the other hand, Senator Kerry looked defensive and a little angry, I think. He was finally held to account for his 20-year record in the United States Senate, and that's something he'd like people to forget about, but President Bush, I thought, did a great job of reminding him of that tonight and of also talking about his plans for the future, President Bush's plans to create more jobs. He talked about where we've been and where we're going, and I think that's what the American people wanted to hear. I thought it was a terrific debate, and of course, I think President Bush dominated it, but I think the -- the people of America are really the winners because they got to hear a great debate from -- a good discussion of the issues that people care about, like health care and the differences between...
HUGHES: ... President Bush's plan to empower people and Senator Kerry's plan to build a bigger government program.
KING: Honestly, though, did you think last week that the president dominated that debate?
HUGHES: Larry, I think on substance, what I said that night was the president showed his heart and his strength. And on substance, he clearly conveyed the -- for example, the way he is waging and winning the war against terror. Now, I think tonight's format, because the president is such a people person -- tonight's format was one that really helped the president's personality shine. I saw him smiling at people in the audience, winking a few times at people in the audience. He really likes people, and I think that came across tonight.
KING: And style is very important -- maybe as important as substance, isn't it. Maybe that's sad but true.
HUGHES: Well, I think it's important, but fundamentally, Larry -- you and I have probably talked about this before. I believe that when the American people get -- actually go to the polls and are ready to choose their next president, they're going to care about a couple of things. They care about who can create jobs, who has the plan to create jobs, and I think President Bush very clearly talked about that tonight, his plan to keep taxes low and regulations fair and to create more jobs here in America, to make our country the best place in the world to do business.
And I think in this election, the first election after 9/11, what the American people are really worried about is which candidate can best keep their family safe. And I think that's where the president really scored a lot of points tonight. He talked about Senator Kerry's naive and dangerous view of the war on terror because he views it as a very -- Senator Kerry has said he views it as an intelligence- gathering and law enforcement operation. That's the way we viewed it before September 11, and I think President Bush tonight made very clear we have got to look at the nightmare scenario, which is that terrorists would be able to somehow access information or materials that would help them in their stated intent of gaining weapons of mass destruction. And that's the real threat for our country for the future. And I -- President Bush recognizes that and is engaged in a full-scale war to prevent that from happening.
KING: Why is this race close?
HUGHES: Well, the country's divided, Larry. We saw that in the last election. I remember you and I talking in the last election about how close it was. And of course, then we saw how close it was in the recount in Florida. The last several congressional elections have been close. And these are times of high stakes, and I understand the president, as he said tonight, has had to make some decisions that were tough decisions. I believe they were absolutely right decisions, but war is never popular. It's not ever something people in America want to do. It's something that we had to do in order to keep our country safer and just to build a safer world for our children and grandchildren.
But I think it's something people are troubled about. I think, in the end, however, they're going to look at all the facts and conclude that President Bush is the person who will keep their family safer. And I personally believe that's the No. 1 issue in this first post-9/11 election.
KING: All right, hang with us for a minute, Karen. I got just one or two things to ask, but I want to ask Senator Bob Kerrey, the former Democrat of Nebraska, member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, decorated veteran of the Vietnam war -- how do you assess tonight? And you're always honest in your assessment. You're usually not political. You give us the straight shot. What do you think?
BOB KERREY (D), FORMER NEBRASKA SENATOR: Well, I thought it was a very good debate, you know, frankly, I mean, because I think what you got, Larry, is a very clear delineation of two approaches to problem solving in the country. Somebody, for example -- I supported the war in Iraq, and still do, but the president hasn't just lost the confidence of the world community, the American people have now turned against the all right. And you need a new approach. You can't keep doing the same old thing. It isn't working.
And I honestly and sincerely believe that President Bush wants a victory in Iraq, but I only -- I believe sincerely that only John Kerry can deliver it. It is going to take a considerable amount of diplomacy. It is going to take a considerable amount of effort to persuade the American people that we have to sustain this course. Either way this election goes, it's going to be difficult for either one of these men to keep the American people on the side of keeping our forces in Iraq. And I believe John Kerry can get that done. I believe his approach to terrorism is solid.
But most importantly of all, I believe he understands that the forces of globalism are tearing this country apart. The president has an economic plan that he put in place that isn't working. It's opened up record deficits. We have record trade -- current account deficits with trade. We're shipping our wealth overseas every single day. At least President Kerry -- Senator Kerry comes in and has a proposal to increase the number of health insurance -- and the president says it's a big government takeover. He likes government when it comes to fighting the war on terrorism, and indeed, in the current job numbers, it shows manufacturing jobs going down, service jobs going down and government jobs going up. So for all his opposition to the government, the only good news in the latest job report came from increased number employment working for the government.
So I think that Senator Kerry's recognizing significant domestic problems that are going on in the country today, and I think the country got a good delineation of the differences from two good men, two capable men who have a different vision for where they want to take the country.
KING: Marc Racicot, do you believe that Iraq will be the central issue November 2?
RACICOT: Well, it makes sense, when you think about it, that it's an incredibly important issue because all of us are worried about safety and security of our -- not only our own personal well-being but that of our families and our friends and neighbors here in this country. And that really is what this is all about, is whether or not our babies, our children and their children, are going to be safe. It has something to do, clearly, with spreading freedom as a potent weapon against terrorism around the world, but most closely and most personally and intimately, it has to do with our safety and security in this country. And it has to do with the question of whether or not we're going to do this now or we are going to be confronted with it when it's exponentially more difficult a generation from now. So I do think it's a critically important issue, one you have to address on the basis of principle.
KING: Marc Racicot will remain with us. So will Senator Kerrey. One more question for Karen Hughes before we let you go, Karen. You're a -- you're the political pro. Give me a key state to look at Tuesday. What's -- will there be a state or two that you'll be looking at to give you a clear definition of where it's going?
HUGHES: Are you talking about on election day, Larry?
HUGHES: I would say Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a state that President Bush lost in the last election. It's a closely contested state. It's a state where I think the values of the state are values that President Bush represents and supports. And I think the -- we've been on several bus tours though Wisconsin, and it feels like we may well pull an upset in Wisconsin. So I think Wisconsin would be a good place, a good bellwether to watch because, again, it's a state that President Bush lost to Senator -- to Vice President Gore last time around, and we think it may be a state that he can pick up this time around.
KING: Karen, always good seeing you. Thanks for being with us.
HUGHES: Larry, thank you for having me. It's great to see you, too.
KING: Karen Hughes. Marc Racicot, Bob Kerrey remain, other panelists join us as we forge ahead into the hour. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: He's trying to attack me. He wants you to believe that I can't be president, and he's trying to make you believe it because he wants you to think I changed my mind. Well, let me tell you straight up I've never changed my mind about Iraq. I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat. I always believed he was a threat. I believed it in 1998, when Clinton was president. I wanted to give Clinton the power to use force, if necessary. But I would have used that force wisely. I would have used that authority wisely, not rush to war without a plan to win the peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We'll get some more words from Marc Racicot and Bob Kerrey before they leave us, but let's check in with Perry Bacon, correspondent for "Time" magazine at the debate hall in St. Louis. Perry, what was your read on tonight?
PERRY BACON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I was actually struck by something. I thought it was a pretty even debate overall. I think Kerry had some good points at the beginning. I was actually struck that Kerry was pretty strong I thought on the foreign policy section, actually, and sort of hit the president hard on that, but I thought the president actually did better -- did stronger and put Kerry on the defensive on the domestic section. We all sort of assumed that Bush is stronger on foreign policy, Kerry on domestic, but I thought today was actually a little bit reversed, and Bush actually I thought (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the end of the debate, I thought.
KING: Candy Crowley, was -- how impacting do you think this debate will be, as it forges toward the last one next Wednesday?
CROWLEY: I think it keeps the game going. I think most anybody would tell you if the president had put in a performance similar to the one he had in Miami, they would have been in real trouble tonight. I think he's getting good reviews from what I can tell, you know, people send you through the Blackberry, and I think this keeps the game open. I think they both go into the Tempe debate next week looking pretty good.
I don't think you're going to end up seeing that these debates have been -- that you'll be able to look back after the election and say, oh, the debates turned it one way or the other. I do think that Bush certainly came to play tonight, certainly put in a strong performance, and I think that puts them both in good stead going into Tempe.
KING: Senator Kerrey, what's your look ahead to November 2? How close? What's going to happen? KERREY: Well, first of all, I agree with Candy. I mean, I do think that both men did well tonight, though again, as I said earlier, Larry, I think on substance, both on Iraq, on domestic policy, I think it's much more likely that Kerry is going to have the majority of Americans and the majority of electoral votes on his side. I mean, you really can't make the case that there weren't mistakes made in Iraq. Just can't make that case. And as I said earlier, it's not a question of angering the rest of the world. Right now you've got a majority of Americans who are opposing this war. It's going to be much harder to keep public opinion in the United States. He's got almost three-fourths of our infantry divisions tied down in Iraq. If something happens in Iran or South Korea, or North Korea, we're going to have to outsource that to somebody else. We don't have the kind of capability, as a consequence, both of us going in Afghanistan and Iraq.
So as well on the domestic issues. The president's fiscal policy has been horrible, his environmental policy, his job record, and especially responding to what globalism is doing to the middle class. No real, serious effort to do something about health insurance. No real, serious effort to do something about education. I mean, you've got the middle class under assault as a consequence of what globalism is doing. And at least Senator Kerry has an aggressive response in health and education.
KING: Do you think he's going to be a clear winner on November 2?
KERREY: I think it's going to be close, Larry. I don't think -- I mean, I don't think he's going to come out of this running all the way with a big lead, although, as I said, I do think, when Americans get beyond sort of the spin of who looked better and who did this, that and the other, the president came in and was stronger than he was in Florida, but he's still got a problem, things have not gone as he had expected in Iraq, a substantial number of mistakes were made, Republican opinion in America now turned against it, and the domestic policies that he put in place have not worked well for a majority of Americans.
KING: Marc Racicot, how would you counter what Senator Kerrey just said?
RACICOT: Well, in reference to a domestic policy, Senator Kerry doesn't have a plan, quite frankly, for the economy that makes any sense. His own advisers call his suggests in some respects with his tax plan asinine, and indicated that it doesn't work. And that's a quote. Those aren't my words.
And frankly, his healthcare plan, I think, by any legitimate examination doesn't do anything but pay an extraordinarily large amount of money, a trillion and a half dollars, that he can't pay for. His tax plan -- of course, you know, there's one thing about this that really elevates my temperature, and that is, this constant drumbeat about the tax plan of the president, which was passed on a bipartisan basis, I might add, favoring the rich. The fact of the matter is, the rich, the people that Senator Kerry talks about, with the class that he fits into, pay even more than they did, prior to the time, proportionally, than when the president's tax plan was taxed. So this notion that it was ever in favor of the rich is absolute rubbish.
So the president is very strong, I think, domestically. And when you take a look at foreign policy, even Senator Joe Biden has revealed that Senator Kerry has taken so many waffling and different positions, because he wanted to win, politically. And frankly, the president wants to win the war, not win an election.
KING: But do you agree that Iraq is not going well?
RACICOT: Well, as the president has talked about, that fact is that every injury, every impact upon a family in this country through a soldier or a sailor serving in Iraq is a matter of grievous concern. And we have extraordinary regret.
But at the same moment in time, you would find among those troops, they know what their there for. They know their there protecting their children, their wives, their parents, our freedom. And that if we don't do this know, it's going to be exponentially more difficult than the years to come...
KERREY: It's going to be exponentially more difficult, Marc, because of what the president did. He stood on an aircraft carrier almost a year ago with a banner behind him saying mission accomplished. It wasn't accomplished. He wasn't prepared.
RACICOT: Now, Senator, that's not fair.
KERREY: It is fair. It is fair.
RACICOT: No it's not.
KERREY: Marc, it is a fair assessment. Did he not stand on an aircraft carrier with a sign behind him saying mission accomplished?
RACICOT: He sat on an aircraft carrier -- he went to an aircraft carrier to tell the troops, thank you. They put up the banner, was my remembrance.
KERREY: Was there a sign -- that's your remembrance? You're telling me the president and his team couldn't have said take that banner down, because I don't want to send a signal that is mission accomplished? He said major combat operations...
RACICOT: That was a statement...
KERREY: No. He made major combat operations are over. There are 800 dead Americans since, thousands more that have been maimed in injury. Public opinion has turned against this war, because of the way he's managed this thing, Marc. That's the problem. (CROSSTALK)
RACICOT: How could you ever tell what kind of a position Senator Kerry has? How would you know? If you said...
KERREY: That's spin, Marc.
RACICOT: If you said, "I'm in favor of Senator Kerry's position," how would you know what that meant, Bob? He's had so many different positions...
KING: We're going to go do more on this...
KING: We're going to have you both on together one night. We'll have you both on together one night before this campaign is over, but I think these two gentlemen in the last three minutes have synchronized what this campaign is all about, maybe why it's so close, why November 2 is going to be so interesting, why next Wednesday night is going to be so interesting. You saw it right there.
We thank Candy Crowley, Senator Bob Kerrey, Governor Marc Racicot for being with us. Perry Bacon will remain with us. Dick Gephardt is still coming ahead, Tucker Eskew. Ann Coulter and Paul Begala will go at each other. All that ahead on LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: He talks about a grand idea. Let's have a summit. We're going to solve the problem in Iraq by holding a summit. And what is he going to say to those people that show up at the summit? Join me in the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place? Risk your troops in a war you call a mistake? Nobody is going to follow somebody who doesn't believe we can succeed and somebody who says the war where we are is a mistake. I know how these people think.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Perry Bacon remains with us, of "TIME" Magazine at Debate Hall in St. Louis.
We're joined now by Congressman Dick Gephardt, Democrat of Missouri. He has served as both minority and majority leader of the House. And the reason he's smiling so much is not so much the debate but the St. Louis Cardinals, am I correct?
REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D), MISSOURI: You are absolutely correct. They're fabulous.
KING: All right. How did you go tonight in your view?
GEPHARDT: Well, I think John Kerry sustained and continued the momentum that he got out of the first debate. I think people saw someone tonight, again, that they could trust to be their commander in chief, to be their next president.
And I think he got in some really good plans on jobs, on health care, on education, on trying to stop the outsourcing of American jobs, and I think really got across to the American people tonight.
KING: Perry Bacon, do you think, based on Governor Racicot and Senator Kerrey, that that was a good microcosm of what this country is all about right now?
BACON: Yes. The Iraq issue, no matter where you go, it's the first issue. I was in Ohio this week for some reporting, and I found that, even there, where, you know, job loss is pretty strong and pretty conservative Republicans (UNINTELLIGIBLE) even there, though, the issue of Iraq is like the fundamental issue of this campaign. And I think Kerry and Bush -- you've heard them debating it tonight very sharply. And I think you'll hear that throughout the campaign as it goes forward.
KING: Tucker Eskew now joins us, another old friend, senior adviser to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.
I guess you thought it went the president's way tonight, if I'm correct, Tucker.
TUCKER ESKEW, SENIOR ADVISER TO BUSH-CHENEY '04: You are correct. I am not just smiling about the Atlanta Braves, Larry. I'm smiling about the president's decisive victory tonight, really clear- cut.
The president really got, finally, John Kerry to have to defend the record. I think the president's line of the night was, "You can run but you can't hide." That's a 20-year record John Kerry's got, and he had to defend it today. And he did it with about as much credibility as when he said, "I've always been consistent on Iraq." I mean, that doesn't pass the laugh test.
The senator did not get across the idea that he's credible, too, when he said that he and John Edwards support tort reform. So, on issue after issue, on substance, the president, clear winner. And on style, as well, which we know some of you in the media pay a lot of attention, too. We looked at it a little bit, too, and liked the way it came out.
KING: So, Tucker, why is this race close?
ESKEW: Well, the race is close because we're going through really turbulent times. There's a lot of turmoil in this country.
And I thought the president really did a very effective job tonight of describing the kind of circumstances, what we've been through together as a country, and how he's led us through those times, the recession handed to him when he took office, the scandals in corporate America that had taken place in the '90s, the wars, the attacks of September 11, I think, primarily, all of which affected our economy, all of which affected our sense of which direction the country was going in, and all of which we've helped recover come with strong, decisive leadership.
The president is consistent, and he's a likable man who reached out tonight, reached across party lines, talked about bipartisan work on Medicare reform and so many other things.
KING: But you still think it's close?
ESKEW: Well, it is close, because of those turbulent times, and because we're a nation at war. Americans are sizing this up. They're looking very carefully. And they are looking, finally, I think, at John Kerry's record, and whether or not he's got a consistent vision for the future.
When John Kerry said tonight that he had a consistent position on Iraq, it didn't work. I think another real strong point for the president was when John Kerry opened up the issue of intelligence and how important it is.
John Kerry even said since the first attack on the World Trade Center, intelligence has been especially critical. And it was after that attack that John Kerry started proposed cuts in the billions of dollars in intelligence. The president picked up on that.
I thought he was really crisp tonight. And I think it was good.
KING: Congressman Gephardt, you may respond to what Tucker said.
GEPHARDT: Well, I think John Kerry really got across his points tonight. He was crisp. He was direct. He was precise in what he said. He answers peoples' questions.
And, again, he talked about the things that are the most important to people. Obviously, people want to be safe. John Kerry well said tonight that he will make them safer as president, that he will track down the terrorists wherever they are and kill them or bring them to justice.
But he also talked about jobs, something that's a huge issue in the country, the fact that, under this president, we've lost more jobs net than any president in the last 72 years.
John Kerry talked about his plan to deal with that, getting rid of the tax breaks that companies now use to take jobs overseas. Then he talked about his health care plan, and getting down health care costs, something that is bedeviling almost every American family. I thought it was a very impressive performance.
KING: We're going to take a break.
We'll take a break, and when we come back, we'll keep Gephardt and Eskew and Bacon with us. That was Senator Kerry, by the way, at a post-debate rally in St. Louis.
We're going to have a mini-debate between Ann Coulter and Paul Begala coming up, and then Representative Gephardt, Tucker Eskew and Perry Bacon will return.
We'll come back with Ann Coulter and Paul Begala and the fireworks right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: One percent of America got more than the 80 percent of America that earned from $100,000 down. The president thinks it's more to fight for that top one percent than to fight for fiscal responsibility and to fight for you. I want to put money in your pocket. I am -- I have a proposal for a tax cut for all people earning less than the $200,000. The only people affected in my plan are the top income earners in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our panel of Congressman Dick Gephardt, Tucker Eskew, senior adviser to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, and Perry Bacon of "TIME" magazine remain with us.
We're joined now in New York by Ann Coulter, the "New York Times" best-selling author. Her new book is "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter." She's legal correspondent for Human Events.
And in St. Louis, in the spin room, is Paul Begala, the co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE," served as a counselor to President Bill Clinton.
Ann Coulter, was John Kerry the liberal you've got to talk to tonight?
ANN COULTER, AUTHOR: Yes, and I have to say, Bush did an amazingly good job. I think what was interesting about this debate was it really was the Democrats' forum, the Democrats' issues, with the town hall and domestic issues, and a Republican beat a Democrat on the domestic issues, from stem cell research, prescription drug care, the environment, partial-birth abortion, one issue after another, health care.
Bush beat Kerry, because I think Kerry is trying to run as a Republican, and he's figured out some sophistical explanations for how he would track down the terrorists and find them where they are, but you know, every place but Iraq. But he hasn't really worked out his sophistical answers on domestic issues.
KING: Paul, Ann Coulter sees a clear-cut victory tonight. How do you view it, Paul?
PAUL BEGALA, HOST OF CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": Oh, I think you had two very strong candidates here. I think Kerry probably had the better of the day, and some of the polling already reflects that, because at the end of the day, the president was strong in his message. And his message is, "We're going to have more of the same."
That's an honorable position. It's a pretty standard position for an incumbent. Kerry laid out his ideas for change, for a new direction. The economy, health care, environment, all the issues that Ann mentioned. She's perfectly allowed and perfectly honorable in wanting to stay the course and have more of the same.
I suspect the voters that Kerry was trying to reach, though, were pretty happy to hear that there's somebody out there with a plan for change. So I think both guys probably got what they wanted, but I think Kerry's going to wind up getting more votes out of this than Bush.
KING: Ann, would you agree that Iraq has not been a success?
COULTER: No, I think it has been a success, and I think Bush really explained it tonight. I mean, if we're going to stop attacks on America, you have to go where the terrorists are. You have to spread freedom throughout the Middle East.
I thought he did a magnificent job explaining that. Kerry says he'll go and find the terrorists where they are, but like I say, you know, every place but Iraq, which the Democrats apparently believe was hermetically sealed from al Qaeda.
He says he voted for the Patriot Act, and then attacks it. And I think most incredible was his claim he'd cut taxes.
KING: But, you know, the question was, you think Iraq is a success?
COULTER: Yes, I mean, we're in the middle -- we still have to do the rebuilding. We weren't liberating Ohio here. It's going to take some time, but, you know, immediately after the Normandy invasion, I don't think I'd say, you know, is World War II a success? Is it over?
It had to be done. And this had to be done. And we're still fighting it.
BEGALA: Well, no. It's a debacle. It's a disaster. And the problem the president has is he won't acknowledge that.
I mean, even his own cabinet officers are acknowledging the problems that are over there. And the president seems to be, you know, stuck in this sort of "Fantasy Island" view of things. I'd sort of expected him to say, "The plane, the plane."
You know, you got to level with people if you're the president. I think people are willing to stay in with him for the long haul if he would level with them. And I thought, you know, that's the point of the debate -- where the president was really sort of pressing and stressing too much. His voice register went up. He was kind of yelling. And he even snapped at Charlie Gibson, who's like the world's nicest guy. That was not the best part of the debate for Bush.
After that little blow-up, I have to say, the president calmed down and did a good job. But if I were going to advise him, I'd give him two words: Anger management. Just calm down a little bit, Mr. President. It's going to be OK.
COULTER: No, the problems with the Democrats jabberwocky about problems, you know, violence seems to come as a bolt out of the blue for liberals, when there's in the Middle East.
But the problem with all this jabberwocky is that ultimately people realize Kerry will never find the right war in the right place at the right time. This is the appeasement party, and it's just words to cover up that they would never fight a war in defense of America.
BEGALA: That's, of course...
KING: You think Franklin Roosevelt was an appeaser, Ann?
COULTER: No, I think, according to the Democrats' own standard, they would not have fought World War II today. I mean, Hitler didn't hit us at Pearl Harbor. Hitler was being contained. We sure didn't have the French and Germans on board for that one.
KING: But it was, Paul, the conservatives who were kind of in the Lindbergh camp before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
COULTER: Before they attacked us, true. FDR was the last man.
BEGALA: You're certainly true with your history, Larry. But let's also look at more contemporary history. I don't think it was John Kerry who was off, you know, hiding in Alabama in the Vietnam War. He went and served his country. He served with honor and distinction.
More importantly, he strongly supported the war in Afghanistan. And his problem is with Bush is that Bush hasn't been strong enough in the real war against the terrorists who attacked us.
I think Kerry makes a good point when he says, look, we had Osama bin Laden cornered. And instead of sending in the 10th Mountain Division, the finest mountain fighting force in the world, he pulled our troops back, the president did, and let a bunch of mercenaries go in there and let Osama get away so he could go attack Iraq.
KING: Ann, you've been very tough on liberals. You're kind of scathing about them unpatriotic and the like. So would you say that Dick Gephardt is like less of an American, and Dick can hear us, than you are?
COULTER: Oh, no, of course not.
KING: Then what do you think Dick Gephardt is? He's a liberal. He is what, then, to you?
COULTER: Well, he's not the candidate for president. And if he agrees with John Kerry...
KING: He does.
COULTER: ... saying that he supports the war in Afghanistan but not the war in Iraq, that's what I'm talking about with the jabberwocky. I mean, the Taliban didn't hit us on 9/11, either. The Taliban was sheltering terrorists. That's our argument for going into Iraq.
Democrats want to act now, and it's a word game, like the only person we have to get to fight the war on terror is Osama bin Laden. No, al Qaeda is spread in 60 countries, as John Edwards admitted the other night, but apparently, not Iraq. That's the one place in the world there's no al Qaeda.
KING: How will you respond to Ann, Dick?
GEPHARDT: Well, what I'd say to Ann is, you know, a lot of Democrats supported giving the president the authority to go to Iraq. I did. John Kerry did. John Edwards did, and a lot of others.
Our problem now is not whether to go to Iraq. We agreed with that, and we still agree with that. The question is how we went to Iraq. And our problem is that we have wound up not leading a world coalition. We're now pinned down in Iraq, and we don't have the capacity to go to all the other places that, Ann's right, that terrorism presents itself.
That's what this argument's about. It's not about whether to go to Iraq. It's how we went to Iraq, and whether or not we really are leading the world, as we did in World War II, to take down the people that are doing bad things.
KING: Tucker Eskew, where is Paul Begala wrong?
ESKEW: Well, he's really wrong when he says that John Kerry scored points by saying the global war on terror should be just really about Osama bin Laden. The fact is, it is a global war on terror. We have to fight across the globe. And John Kerry's record of weakness just doesn't really allow you to feel comfortable about his leadership in times of war.
You know, he said that Saddam could have been contained. But he's on the record, two years ago, saying that containment wouldn't work. This is a man, John Kerry, who said labels, he just missed the word labels, Larry. He said the president was being silly for bringing up the label "liberal."
Liberal means a lot. But you know what? It meant something to John Kerry in 1988. He said, "I'm a liberal and proud of it." He blows with the wind. He's all over the map. We saw more of that tonight. And that really helps us prosecute our candidate...
KING: Paul, we got 30 seconds. I've got to take a break -- Paul?
BEGALA: You know, Larry, I think it's this kind of arrogance that puts voters off. The president of the United States has the hardest job in the whole wide world. We're ready to cut him a lot of slack if he'll just be honest and level with us.
When that woman asked him has he made any mistakes? She just asked him to name three. My goodness, he probably makes three mistakes before breakfast like most of us. But he's so arrogant, and his supporters are, too, candidly, that they can't admit any mistakes.
And the truth is, this president's made a whole lot of mistakes, and America's suffering for them right now.
KING: Thank you Ann Coulter and Paul Begala. We'll come back with Gephardt and Eskew and Perry Bacon to wind it up. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: And of course he's going to raise your taxes. You see, he's proposed $2.2 trillion of new spending. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) well how are you going to pay for it? He said, well, he's going to raise the taxes on the rich. That's what he said, the top two brackets. That raises he says $800 billion. We say $600 billion. We've got battling green eye shades. It's somewhere in between those numbers, and so there's a difference.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: In our remaining moments, Perry Bacon, CNN-"USA Today"- Gallup poll of 515 prospective voters, who did better in the debate tonight? Kerry 47 percent, Bush 45 percent. Is that the way you read it, Perry?
BACON: Yes, that's about -- I think that's about how I read it, too. I thought it was a much more balanced debate than the first one was. And I thought the president -- he seemed a little flustered, again, at the beginning on Iraq a bit. But I think after that he settled down. He really had a good second half of the debate. I thought it was much more balanced performance.
And Kerry got into a little bit -- he put on a really sharp performance the first time and seeming clear. And I thought in the second half of the debate, he gave some of those long answers, and sort of the "It's not that simple," and sort of didn't answers as crystal as he could have.
KING: Tucker, if the public is -- well, that's only 515 people. But if the public is saying this even tonight, which is against what you were thinking, what does it mean?
ESKEW: No, I think we'll continue to believe what we saw tonight was a decisive victory for the president. They'll be some polls. They'll show different things. But I think our base, and I think people who are taking a good, long look at the president and his record, will feel very excited about this.
The president really did get something that we weren't able to accomplish in the first debate. We got a real focus on John Kerry's record. It's something John Kerry won't talk about much, but tonight, and with the vice presidential debate, we began to see a real zeroing in.
Because the president's record is on display. He defends it. He promotes it a lot. The press, obviously, talks about it a lot. But, finally now, we're looking at that 19 year record in the Senate, very few bills passed, Larry, very few accomplishments, a whole lot of rhetoric. We, tonight, got to put that on the public agenda.
KING: Dick Gephardt, what do you make of that early result, 47- 45 Kerry, and what's going to happen in Missouri?
GEPHARDT: Well, I think John Kerry's going to win Missouri, and I think he's going to be our next president.
I think that because now you've got two debates -- there's only one left -- and in this two debates, John Kerry stood on the stage with the president of the United States, and incumbent president, and I think bested him in both debates in the most important terms.
And by that I mean this...
KING: You've 30 seconds, Dick.
GEPHARDT: ... most voters who look at this are coming to find out: Who do I like? Who do I trust? It's a human evaluation of two human beings, and I think John Kerry won it again tonight. I think he's going to win the third debate. I think he's going to be our next president.
KING: And Perry Bacon, will the third debate be decisive, quickly?
BACON: No, I think it'll be -- I think the first two debates are the important, but the third won't be decisive. People are already sort of made their minds at the debates, in my mind. I think it's becoming more important what's going on on the ground on these two campaigns, and how much they will be able to get their base and turn out their base on election.
KING: Thank you all very much for a stimulating and breezy hour of LARRY KING LIVE.
I'll be back. We'll talk to Aaron Brown and check in on the weekend. Don't go away.
KING: Over the weekend, we'll repeat interviews with Martha Stewart and with Janet Leigh, the late Janet Leigh, part of a major tribute to Alfred Hitchcock.
Monday night, Mary Kay Letourneau, live from Seattle, with your phone calls.
Right now, live in New York, with a midnight Eastern time edition of "NEWSNIGHT" -- look how lively he is, up and present, even though the Twins are now done two games to one. He forges on -- OK, I'm sorry.
Aaron Brown, the man of renown.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, sir. You had to bring that Twins thing up, didn't you?
KING: You're welcome.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com