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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Candidates Prepare for Second Presidential Debate

Aired October 8, 2004 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone, and welcome from here inside the Field House at Washington University in Saint Louis.
Behind me, the setting for the second debate between President Bush and Senator Kerry which will have a town hall meeting format. The pressure on each candidate here seems even more intense than it was just a week ago in Miami.

Take a look at a brand new "TIME" magazine poll. It shows President Bush and Senator Kerry tied at 45 percent among likely voters. And here are some of the pressure points sure to come up tonight. New numbers showing lower-than-expected job growth are sure to raise questions about the U.S. economy. And then, of course, there is the subject of Iraq, where British hostage Kenneth Bigley was confirmed dead today, beheaded by his captors.

Also, expect some fireworks over the CIA report which says that while Saddam Hussein wanted weapons of mass destruction, he didn't actually have them when Iraq was invaded last year. It will be a wide-ranging debate. And tonight, for the first and only time, ordinary voters will participate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I would like from each of you a specific response.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you are president, how will you begin to practice what we are preaching to our children?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are the HMOs and insurance companies not held accountable for their decisions?

ZAHN (voice-over): You can't have a town hall meet without an audience to ask questions. But just who's doing the asking? According to the famous 32 pages of rules, members of tonight's audience were selected by the Gallup Organization because they're -- quote -- "soft Bush and Kerry supporters," which means that just maybe, they could be persuaded to change their minds.

The questions were submitted in writing to tonight's moderator, ABC's Charlie Gibson. Only he got to see them and pick them. There will be an equal number of questions on economic and domestic policy on one hand and foreign policy and homeland security questions on the other. The questioners sit in a group by themselves and they have to ask their questions pretty much the same way they put them in writing, no rambling, no extra speeches, or the microphone will be cut off.

No follow-ups are allowed. One question is all you get. Make it a good one. It will be up to Charlie Gibson to prompt responses from the candidates. They'll be sitting on stools, taking notes on tables, and watching out for those tricky reaction shots the TV networks keep insisting on taking. So don't look at your watch.

The candidates get two minutes to respond, a minute and a half to rebut, with a little follow-up if needed. One more thing. At least one campaign doesn't want a repeat of 2000. So there will be no crowding the other guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I believe I can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The candidates will be allowed to get up and walk around, but they have to stay within a predesignated area.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: The stakes are high and, of course, all eyes will be watching how the candidates perform tonight, including our senior White House correspondent, John King, and senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Good to see both of you.

You think, if you had talked to these aides today, these guys are so relaxed. The president was out fishing. John Kerry was watching a baseball game. But the fact is, they have been preparing weeks and weeks for this. The president has looked at videotapes of the mistakes he made in the last debate over and over again. What is the Bush campaign most concerned about with his performance tonight?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Believe it or not, his criticism in the first debate was style. They think the most critical thing tonight is substance. They think the style will follow the substance.

Keeping eye contact with the voters, that's how you keep from making the smirks and the annoying faces. But everyone has focused on those faces. The president failed to explain his policy in Iraq in the first debate. His aides concede that. He attacked John Kerry. They think the attacks are effective, but only if you first explain and defend your policy. They say the president must do that tonight on Iraq and on the economy as well.

ZAHN: And it seems like that would be the least of Senator Kerry's concerns tonight, because everybody thought he mastered the material the last time.

But, interestingly enough, there's a new poll out tonight showing for the first time John Kerry's likability numbers in a "TIME" magazine poll exceed the presidents. That's a big development for him.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a huge development, because, even before Miami, they said 90 minutes to make the voters like him. It sounded like a high hurdle. And it wasn't, at least for that period of time.

The slate is wiped clean now. We'll see what happens tonight. But I think, if they're worried about anything in the Kerry campaign, it still is that same old, the Senate-itis.

ZAHN: Sure.

CROWLEY: Can you distill this into, you know, two minutes and still make it a meaningful answer?

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And, also, is this a guy that can prove the American public tonight he will stick to his positions? Those are the numbers where George Bush overwhelmingly beats him.

CROWLEY: Right. Right. Right.

And he tends to -- the other thing, and we laugh about it. Oh, they watched a baseball game. But part of it is really is trying to get some of that tension out to be natural. The hardest thing in the whole world for these guys is to be natural. And there's been so much focus put on, gee, can John Kerry -- this is George Bush's forum.

John Kerry's done a million of these. Do not for a moment believe that he is going to cut George Bush any slack on these. I mean, he can do town hall meetings very well.

ZAHN: When it comes to domestic issues, the president is going to have to confront some pretty tough job growth numbers, the numbers clearly not meeting the Bush administration's, what would you say, projections. How is he going to handle that?

KING: He's going to say the trend line is going in the right direction, 1.7 million new jobs in the past year. He'll say recession and September 11 did the damage to the economy and that his tax cuts are part of the sugar, if you will, to getting the economy back.

And then he will try to pivot and say, elect Kerry and you'll get higher taxes and you will hurt the economy just as it's starting to roar. It's a familiar argument. But, again, the president has to make it in a persuasive way. We're moving into what the Kerry campaign thinks is its territory. Half of tonight will be domestic issues. The final debate will be domestic issues.

The Bush campaign says it believes it can counter that by making Senator Kerry's record in the Senate, which is a very liberal record, an issue. But the president first, he is the incumbent. He has to explain and defend before he can pivot and attack. ZAHN: But I've been told that one of John Kerry's talking points tonight is going to be, wait a minute, yes, that long explanation is fine, sir, but let's just a look at the last three months of economics

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Bottom line.

Yes, they want to take out all of the excuses, as they see it. Now, this is the excuse president. They want to take all of that out and say, fine. Let's look at the last three months of what you expected and the bottom line, which is, no matter how you slice this or how you spin it, about a million jobs short of where he was when he began. You'll hear -- you may hear Herbert Hoover's name tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Yes, I think we've heard that a couple of times in various campaign appearances.

CROWLEY: You're not going to hear a whole lot new, but you're going to hear the more pointed within that two-minute or 1 1/2-minute

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: OK, Herbert Hoover, we'll count how many times we hear that, flip-flopper. We'll count together.

John King, Candy Crowley, thanks so much.

KING: Thank you.

ZAHN: We're going to take a short break here and return with Governor Pataki of New York and Madeleine Albright, who was a key adviser to President Clinton. We'll talk about foreign affairs and all things domestic as well here.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back inside the hall at Washington University in Saint Louis, where the second presidential debate begins in less than an hour.

Joining me new -- two -- that is now -- two campaign insiders, New York Republican Governor George Pataki and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton.

Welcome to you both.

And we had a little surprise visitor in the middle of that shot as well.

Let's a little bit talk about the developments in Iraq. The president has to confront the issue of yet another beheading in Iraq, a report that has come out that says that, since the time of war, that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. Why is John Kerry wrong when he says that the vice president and the president are the only two not seeing the reality of what's on the ground in Iraq?

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: Well, I don't think that's the case at all.

If you look at the ground in Iraq, I think, over the course of the last week, we've seen significant progress. More importantly, when we talk about the weapons of mass destruction, Senator Kerry said quite plainly that given the knowledge we have today, he'd have made the same decision, that he would have gone into Iraq. So there's no question that the president and the senator both would have made that same decision.

The question is, are the president's policies making America safer? And they clearly are.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Isn't it true that John Kerry said he'd have let the inspections process go on longer in a different time frame?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Absolutely. I hate to disagree with the governor on this, but what Senator Kerry did was to give the president authority, but expected him to carry this out in a quite different way, allowing the inspectors to go in. And they had gone in, they'd have seen what is now coming out of the Duelfer report.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Play the numbers for me, though, because the president is still preferred by a majority of Americans when it comes to the issue of commander in chief and a person who presides over the war on terror. Is it that people aren't comfortable with John Kerry's policies or they just don't trust him?

ALBRIGHT: No, I think that they don't -- obviously, President Bush has been president for four years, and he was there on 9/11.

But I think that, as president, Senator Kerry is somebody who has a great deal of strength, he has fought for the country. He is somebody who understands foreign policy. He's has done it his whole life. And I think this is the time in the campaign when people are really focusing. And they need to really listen to what Senator Kerry is saying about how to make us safer.

The president will be forced by one of the questioners tonight to face the face of his jobs performance. So the Democrats are out there saying today this is the worst job performance of any president in 70 years. How does the president convince people that these numbers are OK

(CROSSTALK) PATAKI: Paula, the fact of the matter to me is very simple. When the president took office, we were already heading into a recession.

We had lost 300,000 jobs over the course of the prior few months. We had had the dot-com bubble that was bursting. We had had the Enron and corporate scandals that were crushing down. And then we had September 11. On September 11, the terrorists didn't think they could just destroy us militarily. They felt they could destroy us economically. And within an hour, we lost 100,000 jobs in Lower Manhattan. We lost over one million jobs.

ZAHN: But we've already heard what John Kerry's talking points are going to be tonight. They're going to focus on just the last three months of economic performance in

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: They're going to say that doesn't look good.

ALBRIGHT: And they cannot keep constantly blaming the past for the fact that no jobs are being created, because they did these massive tax cuts for the rich in order to be able to create jobs and they haven't created the jobs. And this is the first president since Herbert Hoover who has presided over a loss of jobs.

So you can only blame the past for so long. And I think that President Bush has to face the fact that his administration has not created the jobs.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Are you saying there's no statute of limitations here?

PATAKI: I'm not talking about the past, because if you look since last August, this president's policies have created almost two million new jobs, the fastest rate of growth in almost 20 years.

It takes a while to turn around an economy that's headed towards recession. It takes a while to recover from the economic consequences of September 11; 13 straight months of job growth, almost two million new jobs, the fastest rate in 20 years, the fastest rate of any industrialized country in the world, because the president's policies, lower taxes, empowering the entrepreneurs, allowing us to invest and compete globally, are working.

ZAHN: And we're going to hear the exact opposite of that tonight from Senator Kerry.

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think, yes, because I think the kinds of jobs that have been created are not the kind that really benefit the middle class of this country and those who are losing their jobs and the jobs that are going overseas.

I think we have a president in place now who simply does not face reality. You talked earlier about what's going on in Iraq. I don't know what it is they think is going on there, but, in the meantime, there are people dying in Iraq. American military now are up to 1,066 deaths. There are tens of thousands of people that have been injured. And what they are saying about Iraq is simply not so. And I think about the jobs, it also is simply not so.

ZAHN: But then you talk to the voting public and they don't believe there's that discernible of a difference between the president's plan long term in Iraq and John Kerry's.

Quick closing thought on that, Governor.

PATAKI: Well, the difference is that the president has a plan and he's actually implementing it. And it has made America safer. It has made the world safer.

And tomorrow, there are going to be elections in Afghanistan, an incredible transformation of what had been an evil country, because of his policies.

(CROSSTALK)

ALBRIGHT: No. I think the president has made things worse in Iraq.

And where we had Saddam Hussein in a box, now we have terrorists coming into Iraq, pouring in over the borders, and, in fact, being a part of the insurgency. I personally do not feel safer as a result of what the president has done in Iraq.

ZAHN: President Musharraf in an interview with me of Pakistan said he believed this war in Iraq has made the world a more dangerous place. He's one of our chief allies.

PATAKI: But, Paula, Paula, one of the comments that the secretary just made is that terrorists are pouring into Iraq. Of course they are, because they know that this is the center point of the global war against terror.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But isn't it true the majority of the insurgents are Iraqis at this point, the analysis would suggest? They're not foreign

(CROSSTALK)

PATAKI: There's no question that people like al-Zarqawi and others are involved in terrorism, not just to destabilize Iraq, but to go against America, ultimately, because they hate the freedoms that we believe in. And we're better off fighting them in Iraq, than fighting them on the streets of New York with our police and firefighters.

ZAHN: We've got to leave it here to make room for both of your candidates. Good luck to both of you.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you for joining us tonight, Secretary Albright, Governor Pataki.

We're going to take a short break.

Support for the candidates is shifting in some key battleground states. Our exclusive electoral map and "TIME" magazine's Joe Klein's dos and don'ts right after this. You're watching PRIME TIME POLITICS live from the presidential debate in Saint Louis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Well, every debate has a spin room. You're looking at a high-powered one here. High-profile supporters of both candidates will be here explains why their guy did the best job, spinning it silly.

And in just a few minutes, we'll bring you tonight's town hall debate from here at Washington University in Saint Louis.

But now I am joined by CNN political editor John Mercurio, who has the update on the all-important race for electoral votes.

Welcome, John.

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey.

ZAHN: We're going to take a look at your exclusive CNN map here. And if anybody's been following this, you look at the map and it doesn't really look all that different. If the election were held today, President Bush would win with 301 electoral votes. Senator Kerry would take 237 votes. Although that map has not changed all that much in the past week, it doesn't tell the whole story. What are some of the underlying changes that aren't so obvious on the map?

(CROSSTALK)

MERCURIO: I think it's sort of interesting. Just like you said, there hasn't been any -- no state has actually switched columns.

There's been a sizable shift, however, from last week to this week towards John Kerry. Of course, what happened in the past week, the two candidates, Kerry and Bush, met in the debate in Miami. Now, since last week, we've been able to find seven states, based on polling and a lot of interviews that we've done, seven states that are shifting towards Kerry, where he's making significant ground.

Those states are Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Florida, New Mexico, New Hampshire.

ZAHN: All right, this is a little confusing, because we're actually looking at the slim Bush leads now.

MERCURIO: Right.

ZAHN: Seven states in all, then?

MERCURIO: Seven states in all. Combined, that's about 82 electoral votes. If Kerry were to pick up just two of those states, Ohio, the jackpot states of Ohio and Florida, he'd open up a huge lead in the Electoral College.

ZAHN: But you had also mentioned to us that John Kerry was having some trouble in states that he was supposed to have locked up. And that picture changed, too.

MERCURIO: Yes. And it's also really good news for Kerry in those states. He was having trouble in these mid-Atlantic states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, states that Gore won, not just won, but won big. There's also polling that he's picking up support there.

Most of the support is coming from women, women who had turned away from him after the convention, the Republican Convention. They liked the way that Bush was appealing to them as a strong leader in the war on terror, but they didn't like the way that he performed during the debate. They didn't like his behavior. And they're turning back to Kerry.

ZAHN: Is it that they didn't like his behavior or that they didn't like what he said about Iraq and they liked John Kerry's proposals better?

MERCURIO: I think it's actually both, to be honest with you. I think the pollsters that I've talked to have said that it's actually they didn't like the sort of peevish, the annoyed look that he had. Looked slightly immature was a word that I heard a pollster talk about. And they also, as you said, haven't really liked the

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: I look at those numbers pretty skeptically, John.

MERCURIO: Which numbers?

ZAHN: Women aren't all that frivolous and change their mind that quickly.

MERCURIO: Women want a strong leader, just like men do, I think.

But, specifically, they like the idea of secure -- the idea of national security and the idea that President Bush, during his convention, gave his message that, under his presidency, this country would be more secure.

ZAHN: Let's just see how fickle women are a few weeks from now.

John Mercurio, thanks so much.

MERCURIO: OK.

ZAHN: As we count down to tonight's presidential debate, it's time to go over the dos and don'ts for each of the candidates.

As always, our list is drawn up by our regular contributor, "TIME" magazine columnist Joe Klein, who tonight joins me from our New York studio.

Good evening, Joe.

JOE KLEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hi, Paula.

ZAHN: Go through your list.

Hi. You can get started, the dos first.

KLEIN: OK, I can get started?

This is for President Bush first. You have to pay more attention to the audience than to John Kerry. That is going to translate into paying attention to the audience at home as well. You have to offer more detail than you did last week and you have to play nice. A lot of those really tough lines you've been using out on the stump aren't going to fly with a real live audience.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Oh, I'm sorry. Do you suspect the president will tone down that rhetoric tonight, Joe?

KLEIN: He may well. That is the most interesting question that's out there tonight, what kind of pose the president will take.

The things he can't do, don't do, don't make faces. Remember this. Body language has to be very presidential. Don't repeat yourself as often as you did last week. We know it's a tough job. We know it's hard. And, third, don't ridicule John Kerry. Don't use those tough lines you've been using on the stump.

ZAHN: Well, that's what I'm sort of interested in knowing about, Joe. How big of a risk has it been for the president to do the direct attacking and not leave the dirty work up to his surrogates.

KLEIN: Well, you know, I will bet you that they've been practicing some of these zingers that the president's been using.

But I bet you they've been practicing it in rooms without audiences. And I think that that would be -- it would be very easy for the president to be thrown off his stride if he tries one of those things and he doesn't get an applause. He may get a few gasps. We'll see. But it's real risky to go very negative in a roomful of civilians.

ZAHN: On your John Kerry playbook now, the dos first.

KLEIN: OK, John Kerry, same thing as Bush. Focus on the folks.

No. 2, more domestic policy. Everything we're hearing is that people are beginning to suffer Iraq fatigue and they want to hear more about the economy and health care. That's one of Kerry's strengths. And, third, be ready to defend your record, especially your vote on the 1991 Gulf War, because the president is going to be coming after your 20-year record in the Senate. (CROSSTALK)

KLEIN: Do you want me to go with the don'ts?

ZAHN: Carry on.

KLEIN: OK.

ZAHN: Please. Please.

KLEIN: Don't be cocky. You won the last one. You've got to win them all.

Don't be too folksy. It ain't you. And don't let him bug you. He's going to try and get under your skin. You've got to stay presidential.

ZAHN: I'm interested in a couple of other polling statistics that came out, Joe, that I find fascinating. One is that, for the first time, John Kerry is polling more likable than the president, but by the same token, you look at some other numbers that don't bode well for John Kerry, and that's the idea that the American voter doesn't think he stands for something consistently.

KLEIN: Well, on the second point, he's had, like, $100 million of negative advertising thrown at him making the point that he's a flip-flopper. So that's a very, very difficult impression to overcome in just one debate.

He's going to need this debate and he's going to need the one next Wednesday. And he may need a couple more breaks as well. It's really hard in the middle of a war for the public to move from a commander in chief to another guy they mainly know as a flip-flopper. Now, the first point was what, Paula?

ZAHN: Likability.

KLEIN: Oh, likability.

Look, the fact is that if he's in the same ballpark as Bush when it comes to likability, he has scored a major triumph. My guess is that Bush was unlikable last Thursday and that's why the president's numbers come down. And, as a result, it's kind of a seesaw. John Kerry's numbers come up.

ZAHN: We will keep your list at our sides as we watch the debate tonight. Thanks for the road map, Joe.

KLEIN: My pleasure, Paula.

ZAHN: And we've got just about 30 minutes to go before the candidates walk on stage.

And our pre-debate coverage continues from inside the Field House at Washington University in Saint Louis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back.

That wraps it up for all of us here at PRIME TIME POLITICS.

Now I turn over the coverage to my colleague Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

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