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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Candidates Prepare For Showdown in Arizona; Voters Opting for Absentee Ballot; What to Expect from Tomorrow's Debate; Baking Test Goes Bad Between Laura Bush, Teresa Kerry

Aired October 12, 2004 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome.
Thanks so much for joining us tonight on PRIME TIME POLITICS just 21 days before the election and on this, the eve of the last debate, one final chance for George Bush or John Kerry to land a knockout punch. Tonight, what to watch for and what to expect in this third and final face-off.

Also, millions of voters can't wait until November 2 to vote, and in most states, they don't have to. The growing trend of early voting, how it works, what it means, and why one party thinks it could give the edge to its candidate in this election.

But, first, as the hours count down to the crucial contest, one side pours on the steam. The other lies low. Everything may be on the line tomorrow for George W. Bush and John Kerry. Polls show Senator Kerry does have momentum, and domestic issues, tomorrow night's topic, are supposed to be his strong suit. But on the campaign trail today, the president wasn't waiting. He was already on the offensive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN (voice-over): Campaigning in Colorado, President Bush stayed with a line of attack he is almost certain to use in tomorrow's debate.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Much as he's tried to obscure it, on issue after issue, my opponent has shown why he earned his ranking as the most liberal member of the United States Senate.

ZAHN: If today's rally was any indication, the president also intends to make liberal use of the flip-flop art.

BUSH: In the same debate, he said Saddam was a threat, and then a few minutes later he said there wasn't a threat in Iraq. And he tries to tell us he's had only one position. Who's he trying to kid? See, he can run from his record, but he cannot hide.

ZAHN: He may not be hiding, but Senator John Kerry did spend the day secluded in New Mexico getting ready for the debate. He left the counterattacking to his running mate.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John Kerry's going to win that debate tomorrow. And one of the reasons he's going to win is because George Bush is out of touch.

ZAHN: Using down-home rhetoric, Edwards sounded another theme we'll probably hear again tomorrow, that President Bush cannot defend his record.

George Bush is going to do it again tomorrow. He's going to do everything in his power to put lipstick on this pig. But no matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, at the end of the day, it's still a pig, isn't it?

ZAHN: Campaigning in the Midwest, Vice President Cheney is using yet another line of attack we're likely to hear tomorrow. Cheney is teeing off on a Kerry quote about terrorism. When asked what would it take for Americans to feel safe again, the senator replied -- quote -- "We have got to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." Cheney recited a long list of terrorists attacks dating back to 1983, then asked:

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When was it that terrorism was just a nuisance?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "STOLEN HONOR")

JACK FELLOWS, FORMER POW: We stayed two more years because of him. John Kerry, Jane Fonda and all that crowd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The Democrats are complaining about what they see as a different kind of nuisance. Next week, the Sinclair Broadcast Group will require its 62 stations to air a documentary called "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal." Democrats say it's nothing but anti- Kerry propaganda being forced on viewers over the public airwaves.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: To go out and preempt regular broadcasting to put on a 90-minute attack against a presidential candidate a week before the election is absolutely outrageous and it's illegal.

ZAHN: A Sinclair executive tells CNN the program is a newsworthy event and rejects the Democrats' allegation that it's illegal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: We were planning to talk with the producer of "Stolen Honor" tonight. We wanted to ask about the groups that financed his film, but Carlton Sherwood backed out at the last minute. He is still welcome at any time.

In the meantime, as you've just heard, the Democrats have filed a complaint with the FCC. Its chairman, Michael Powell, also declined our request for an interview. And Sinclair Broadcasting refused to answer our questions as well.

It's a miracle I could get correspondents to show up tonight, and they are here. How is this all playing on the campaign trail? From Arizona, I'm joined by senior White House correspondent John King and senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, who's covering the Kerry campaign.

Thank you for reporting to duty, team.

John, what does the Sinclair Broadcasting controversy mean on Election Day? Anything at all?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, from the Bush campaign perspective, they're staying out of this. Some aides say privately perhaps they'll benefit if this program is seen by many viewers around the country, but they say they have no influence over the Sinclair executives. They have not asked them to run this program. They are not getting involved in this controversy.

They have no role in this, as much as they have no role in telling you how to set your program at night. So they're watching this debate. They say, though, it is a media story and it is something for the Democrats maybe to complain about. But they say they want no part of it.

ZAHN: So, from the Kerry point of view, what do they fear might happen if most of these stations air this anti-Kerry documentary, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in an election that is going to be close, they obviously don't want anything out there that they think is going to hurt the candidate. But this is sort of akin to drawing the sting.

If you believe that the program's going on anyway, what have we had all day long? We have had all those Democrats out there, including Terry McAuliffe, saying, this is propaganda. This is terrible. It shouldn't be on. So you immediately offer a pre- critique of it and you try to draw some of the negativity out of it for your candidate, and that's what they're doing now.

ZAHN: John, let's talk a little bit about what the challenge is for the president tomorrow night. We're going to put up on the screen a sample of some latest polling on the very issues that these candidates are going to address tomorrow night, on the issue of health care and the economy. You can see that John Kerry is leading the president on health care by a large margin. Taxes, the president ahead. What does the president have to do to get any traction on those first two issues?

KING: Well, he has to try to narrow that gap.

The Democrats have had some success, especially in those Midwestern states, the key battlegrounds states, where jobs have been lost, in saying they're a middle-class squeeze. Some people are losing their jobs. Some people are losing their health insurance. Some people are losing both.

Senator Kerry's advantage somewhere around 19 points I think in that poll on the health care issue. Interestingly -- and this is a bit of a surprise coming from an administration in office 45 months -- many Bush aides argue that, because of all the focus on war and terrorism, voters don't know much about the specifics of the president's views on health care and some other domestic issues. They are insisting that even though this might be Senator Kerry's turf, domestic issues, if you look at the polls, they're saying the president can actually help himself in the debate tomorrow by explaining his proposals, which they insist are popular.

But if the president does not make up ground on the health care issue and maybe improve his standing a bit on the economy, very tough for him to win Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, the big key battlegrounds.

ZAHN: And, Candy, we can almost choreograph, can we not, what the challenge is for John Kerry tonight. We've heard the vice president repeat the charge about a sentence that what was quoted in "The New York Times" over the weekend, where John Kerry talked about getting the system to a place where you could view terrorism as a nuisance. They've gotten a lot of mileage out of that on the campaign trail, Mr. Cheney saying, at what point since 1983 has terrorism simply been a nuisance?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, one of the things is that tomorrow night is supposed to be domestic night. Now, they certainly believe that if there is a way the president can get in homeland security, which you could argue certainly is a domestic issue, that that indeed might come up.

They're not overly worried about that, only because they feel that John Kerry has made -- and they look at the polls and say, look, he's made his case that he can be a tough commander in chief. They in fact would like to see some of those numbers go up when you're asked who can better handle terrorism, who can better handle terrorism Iraq. George Bush still has the advantage there, but they say they're closing in on him and that they have made some gains on those two issues.

So they don't seem overly worried about the nuisance thing. They have sort of treated it like a nuisance. They've had other people out there talking about it, but so far, not the candidate.

ZAHN: We'll see the two of you in Tempe, the show traveling to get there for tomorrow night for the preview show. Candy Crowley, John King, thanks.

And that is a program note for you. Please join us tomorrow night at 8:00. Our PRIME TIME POLITICS special will begin live from Tempe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): And there's much more ahead tonight on PRIME TIME POLITICS. When it comes to your wallet...

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a plan.

ZAHN: And so does he.

BUSH: America must be the best place in the world to do business.

ZAHN: Congress and Wall Street go their own way. Does the president's plan even matter?

And just what was that bulge in the back of President Bush's jacket during the debate? People are still talking about it. Was it an electronic device of some sort, a bulletproof vest, bad tailoring or a vast left-wing conspiracy? That's our voting booth question of the day. Just go to CNN.com/Paula. The results at the end of the hour.

More PRIME TIME POLITICS just ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tomorrow night's debate will concentrate on domestic issues, and for many worried Americans, that boils down to one thing, the economy. But many voters and experts, too, wonder how much difference either candidate can make.

Our Tom Foreman visited one Maryland business to see how the competing messages are playing out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the busy Baltimore Harbor, 180s started 10 years ago, making innovative sportswear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has an on-board bladder, allows you to reintroduce heat into the glove.

FOREMAN: It employs 100 people and from the beginning, local politicians have helped this company deal with regulations, taxes and trade.

BRIAN LE GETTE, FOUNDER, 180S: We've had support, really strong support, from both parties. And so we have a Republican governor. We have largely Democratic senators and Congress persons and we've had support from every single one of them that has hit the bottom line of this company.

FOREMAN: What is not so clear is how presidential politics will affect such companies, which both candidates say create most new jobs. President Bush says his tax cuts are key.

BUSH: When we help the job creator, somebody is more likely to find work. We've added 1.7 million jobs Since August of 2003. The tax relief plan is making a difference.

FOREMAN: Republicans point to positive signs of economic growth. The gross domestic product, which is the total value of goods and services produced in America, is up. So is home ownership. Unemployment and interest rates remain relatively low, and according to economists, all of that is good, but with a catch.

JARED BERNSTEIN, ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE: They have thrown literally hundreds and hundreds and billions of dollars at this problem of job growth and they have been largely ineffective in ameliorating the problem.

KERRY: Today, the president goes around America and he tells you that the economy's just fine, getting stronger every day, that things are better. But he's not in touch with the lives of the people, the average Americans.

FOREMAN: Democrats point out that business investment is down. More families are carrying heavy credit loads, and doing without health care insurance, and four million more Americans are in poverty. But there is a catch there, too.

RON HASKINS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: But that level is lower than the average of the '80s or the '90s, and it's much lower than it was in 1993, when poverty began a very sustained decline, in fact, the first sustained decline since the early 1970s.

FOREMAN: Both candidates promise tax cuts, affordable health care and a 50 percent reduction in the deficit. Economists doubt that either can keep all of those promises.

(on camera): Do you think it is clear that either party is necessarily the better one for business?

BRENT HOLLOWELL, CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, 180S: It's certainly not clear to me, but the tone that the president sets is hugely important.

FOREMAN: And in this economy, which is neither spectacular nor dismal, the vote may come down to just that, whom do employers and employees simply trust more to pass the buck their way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: We have seen more than a half million jobs lost under this president's watch, seen a projected surplus turned into a record deficit. And look at these numbers. Our latest poll shows that more Americans think the economy is getting worse than better, 48 percent to 43 percent, and that Americans by a 49 percent to 45 percent margin trust Kerry more than the president to handle the economy.

Why should we give the president the benefit of the doubt here?

DON EVANS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: I think because he, in fact, has a very, very strong record to run on when you look at the real, true record.

The president inherited a Clinton recession. We had 9/11. After 9/11, we lost one million jobs. Then we had a war in Afghanistan, liberation of Iraq, war against terrorism, corporate scandals, have a headwind right now with some higher energy prices. In spite of that, unemployment, which peaked at 6.3 percent, is now down to 5.4 percent. According to the household survey, we have more Americans going to work today ever in the history of our country.

We have higher home ownership ever in the history of our country. Inflation is in check. Interest rates are at historic lows. This right now is the fastest growing economy of any industrialized country in the world.

ZAHN: Are you happy with the current budget deficit?

EVANS: Well, Paula, it's understandable. You never welcome a deficit. But, Paula, when you inherit a Clinton recession, when you have a national emergency like 9/11, and then when you're at war, it's understandable that you would go through a period of deficits.

ZAHN: But, Mr. Secretary, let me ask you this, because you have the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office saying that about two- thirds of that deficit is, in fact, created by the president's tax cuts. How do you defend that?

EVANS: Well, Paula, I defend it by saying, by cutting taxes, you're creating the environment for more jobs. Jobs lead to higher federal revenues in the long run. And we've shown time and time again that if you have lower taxes, it means more jobs. It means more economic growth. And then the president has said he's going to cut the deficit in half within five years.

ZAHN: OK.

EVANS: We're well on our way to doing that.

ZAHN: And that's essentially what John Kerry is also proposing, but the president has alienated conservatives in his own party who are very unhappy with the increased government spending. They hate these deficits. They think you're mortgaging our grandchildren's futures here. What would he be willing to give up in his projected $1 trillion-plus plan?

EVANS: Paula, he doesn't need to give up anything. It's already in the president's budget. It's already laid out there, the five-year plan of how he will cut the deficit in half in five years. And so it's already on the record, on the official record.

I mean, John Kerry doesn't have anything on the official record. What he's proposing is some $2.5 or $2.2 trillion of new spending. He talks about increasing the tax cuts on the wealthy. He's really talking about raising taxes on small business owners all across America, the job creators. That's what he's really talking about, but even then, there's a gap. There's a tax gap. There's a shortfall of $1.5 trillion. He doesn't explain how he's going to raise that.

Well, I'll tell you how he's going to raise it. He's going raise the taxes on more Americans.

ZAHN: What mistakes do you think the president has made with this economy? What could he have done better?

EVANS: Paula, you know, I've just got to tell you that I think the record that he has to run on is extraordinarily strong, given the fact that we were handed a recession, handed a Clinton recession. You lost one million jobs after 9/11. You know, listen, you know, on the basic fundamental issues of fiscal policies and free and fair trade and knocking out regulations, you know, the president has made all the right moves.

I will tell you, one of the big disappointments would be in energy. Unfortunately, it's Congress that's made the mistake, has not delivered an energy bill to the president's desk.

ZAHN: So this administration couldn't have done anything better all the way around?

EVANS: Well, you know, Paula, look, I'm not going to say that, you know, every last decision was perfect. What I'm going say is, on the big decisions we had to make in terms of getting the environment right for job creation and economic growth in this country, the president has made on them. He's led on them and he's delivered.

ZAHN: Commerce Secretary Don Evans, we got to leave there tonight. You're traveling to Tempe tomorrow night. So is our show. We'll see you on the road.

EVANS: Thank you. Thank you very much, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you for the time.

EVANS: You bet.

ZAHN: And that is the take on the economy from the Bush campaign, but the Kerry view, as you might expect, is quite different. And we will get that side from Roger Altman, one of the key advisers to John Kerry, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back.

For the Kerry campaign's take on the economy, I am joined by Roger Altman, who was deputy treasury secretary during the Clinton administration and is now advising Senator Kerry on economic issues.

Welcome back. Good to see you.

ROGER ALTMAN, KERRY ECONOMIC ADVISER: Thanks for having me.

ZAHN: I know you just heard my interview with Secretary Evans. He's basically saying that his administration inherited your recession. He went on to say that the job loss during the Bush administration was due to the multiple blows of 9/11, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan. To what extent have those events affected the overall economy? ALTMAN: Well, as you just said -- and Secretary Evans is a good man, but he just used seven separate excuses as to why their economic record isn't what it should be.

ZAHN: But are any of them valid?

ALTMAN: Well, they're not valid today, today. And so the right way to look at this question is to ask ourselves, how is the economy doing today? Because none of the seven factors he mentioned, including 9/11, have anything to do with the economy today. So let's look at it that way.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But he would argue that the war in Iraq and the continuing expenses in Afghanistan, they certainly do impact the economy.

ALTMAN: Well, that's a weak one, because the war in Iraq is having very little effect on the domestic economy here. It's having some effect on the budget deficit, which is a negative effect, but it's having very little effect on today's economy. So let me just address myself to that.

Over the last three months -- this is what they don't want to you hear -- the percentage of Americans who are working in this country, Paula, has fallen, not risen. And over the last three months, median family incomes in this country have fallen, not risen. Now, why is that? That's because population growth has outstripped the anemic job growth we've seen.

They say, wow, we're creating a lot of new jobs. No, you're not. The population is growing even faster than the jobs you're creating, so the percentage of Americans working in this country is going down. Let me give you a statistic. The average monthly job growth during the eight Clinton year, average, was 243,000. That's the average monthly rate over eight years.

George W. Bush has had two months which were as good or better than that. On incomes, inflation is subdued, but it's running higher than this anemic wage growth. So right now in this economy, right this moment, it's not working on jobs or on income.

ZAHN: The administration put out people on Friday and they reacted that night before the debate, but then they said you have to look at the overall economy.

Let's talk about what they're doing to your candidate right now. John Kerry looked the American public in the eye on camera during the debate and said he would not raise taxes on the middle class, anybody making less than $200,000 a year. Take a look at this graphic, because we commissioned a poll over the weekend that shows that half of all voters actually think he will raise their taxes. Why don't people believe John Kerry when it comes to his no-tax pledge to the middle class?

ALTMAN: Well, there's nothing new about that. For example, in 1993, after the famous and bloody battle over President Clinton's economic plan and the deficit reduction plan, which of course ushered in the greatest period of prosperity any of us can ever remember, taxes were raised on 1.2 percent of Americans at that time, 1983. And I recall a poll taken four years later in California, which showed that 40 percent of Californians thought that their taxes had been raised.

The point is that if you say to Americans enough times something that's untrue -- it can be on taxes. It can be on John Kerry's Vietnam record, whatever it is, a meaningful percentage of them will believe it. It's...

ZAHN: But the Bush administration says it's true. And it says if you're going to go ahead and tax people for making over $200,000 a year, you are ultimately going to hurt the small business operations that are, in fact, the engines that grease the economy and create job growth.

(CROSSTALK)

ALTMAN: They're saying two things. They're saying, actually, you'll raise taxes on the middle class, not just the wealthy, like you say you will. And then they're saying, even your taxes on the wealthy will hurt small business owners.

Let me take those two on. First of all, they said the same thing about President Clinton, the same thing. We all went through that. they said, oh, actually, he says he's only going to raise taxes on 1.2 percent of Americans, but he's really going to raise taxes on everybody. Well, of course, he didn't. And they're saying the same about John Kerry.

He says he's going to raise taxes on only the top 2 percent, those earning $200,000 a year, but, really, he'll raise taxes on everybody. Well, he won't. And then about the small business thing, that's such a canard. "The Wall Street Journal" pointed out that under Senator Kerry's plan, which would roll back the tax cuts for those earning $200,000 a year or month, exactly 3 percent of small businesses, which happens to be 17,000 of them, will be affected by that.

So when these folks talk about gazillions of small businesses being affected, it's untrue, according to "The Wall Street Journal." And, by the way, apropos of the debate in Saint Louis, the way they count it, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are both small business owners, which is a little bit embarrassing.

ZAHN: Need a brief final note from you. What do you think is John Kerry's biggest challenge going into the debate tomorrow night?

ALTMAN: Well, I think John Kerry's on a roll. I think he has the momentum. I think he has shown himself to be strong, vigorous, ready to turn this economy around and ready to keep this country safer than George W. Bush is and, among other things, repair the homeland security failures that Bush has had. So I think Kerry just needs to continue to do what he's been doing in these last two weeks.

ZAHN: So he's relaxed rooting on the Boston Red Sox tonight is basically what you're saying?

ALTMAN: Well, everybody is going to watch the Red Sox tonight.

ZAHN: Wrong team.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Old Boston guy. Roger Altman, thank you for dropping by tonight.

ALTMAN: Thank you.

ZAHN: The joke used to be vote early, vote often. Well, often is still illegal, but in more than half the states, voters are casting ballots weeks before the election. So how will that affect the outcome? Coming up.

And remember, our voting booth question of the day: What do you think that bulge was in the back of President Bush's jacket during the debates? Click on CNN.com/Paula, vote, give us your off-the-cuff opinion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Vote early and vote often goes the old political line. Of course, it is illegal to vote often, but this year more Americans are taking the vote early part to heart.

Some observers prohibit as many as 25 percent of the vote might be cast by absentee ballot.

And our Keith Oppenheim visited the battleground state of Iowa, where early voting is all the rage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wilma Davis is on a mission.

WILMA DAVIS, KERRY SUPPORTER: I definitely want to see Kerry elected. And I'll do whatever I can to help.

OPPENHEIM: She's a courier, trained by the state, working for the Democratic Party, volunteering to pick up absentee ballots.

DAVIS: Hi!

OPPENHEIM: Etta Mae Wilson hands over two ballots. She's 87. Her husband Don is 88. Both are voting for John Kerry. Because of health concerns, they're voting from home, something they've never done before.

OPPENHEIM (on camera): Did you feel pretty good about what you did with early voting?

DON WILSON, KERRY SUPPORTER: Yes, I do.

OPPENHEIM: Because why?

WILSON: It's done, and if for some reason we couldn't get to the poll, why, we do have our vote in.

OPPENHEIM (voice-over): Four years ago, 20 percent of Iowa's ballots were cast early. In fact, while George W. Bush won the election day vote, Al Gore won the absentee vote by enough of a margin to take the state by a nose.

This time around, it's expected close to one-third of Iowa's ballots could come in early. People can do it by mail or just pop into an election office.

Tom Cox and his wife Jane came in to cast votes for George W. Bush.

(on camera) Do you have any sense as to whether or not early voting has much of an impact on how people vote in Iowa in general? Do you think it makes a difference?

TOM COX, VOTER: A lot more than they used to.

OPPENHEIM: What's the difference?

COX: More people are voting.

OPPENHEIM (voice-over): The truth is, no one's quite sure yet if early voting means more voting, but Democrats here are banking on it, believing if they can encourage the party faithful to vote early, they can then devote more energy to the undecideds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we can count on your support.

OPPENHEIM: The Republicans are counting on loyalty, that more of their supporters will show up on election day than Democrats.

Iowans seem to like all these voting options, but some here believe there's a down side.

PROF. DENNIS GOLDFORD, DRAKE UNIVERSITY: If they vote early, they've walked out of the football game in the middle of the third quarter, and there's still a quarter and a half to go, and the whole tenor of the game may change.

OPPENHEIM: In a sense, early voting has already changed the game in Iowa. The question is, has early voting expanded the number of people taking part in democracy? Or has it just shifted the timing of the voters and the tactics of the parties?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: Good question posed by Keith Oppenheim.

Of course, for each party, the important thing is not how many people vote. It's how many vote for you.

And with me now is Republican political analyst, the Reverend Joe Watkins and from Washington, D.C., Democrat Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000.

Donna, you better behave tonight. I'm sitting here with a reverend. OK.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He's going to tell on me?

REV. JOE WATKINS, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, no, no.

ZAHN: You cut through this early voting stuff for us tonight. What do you think it means?

BRAZILE: Well, I think it's important to understand it's convenient for ordinary citizens who are rushed in their own personal lives, stressed out, trying to get their kids prepared, going to work, trying to rush home to vote. This is really good for democracy.

As you can see in the report you just heard, that citizens really like the process. It's hassle-free. You can get your vote in early. You can encourage others to vote early. So I think it's a good -- it's good for democracy.

ZAHN: Yes, I get all that.

BRAZILE: It's good for Democrats.

ZAHN: You really do think it helps the Democrats?

WATKINS: And Republicans, too. Republicans also.

ZAHN: Yes, but is there really any way of knowing? We see these endless polls done.

WATKINS: Well, there is no way. There's no way of knowing.

ZAHN: And as we go out and canvas all these neighborhoods, this is the toughest part.

WATKINS: Absolutely right. So hard to tell, but Donna's actually right. This is great for democracy. It's so good that Americans are so excited about this election. I think that we're going see really great numbers in terms of the turnout on November 2.

ZAHN: Donna, I want to move you on to the topic of radio talk shows today. Let's listen in on the continuing controversy over an interview John Kerry did with "The New York Times," when he made a reference to ongoing terrorism as some day perhaps being perceived as a nuisance.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RANDI RHODES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And that's exactly what John Kerry said. He said he wanted to reduce terrorism to a level where it was just a nuisance, and that it should be reduced so that it's not threatening people's lives every day. And fundamentally it's something that you can continue to fight so that it's not threatening the fabric of your life.

NEAL BOORTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If you're comfortable with that nuisance level of terrorist attack activity against Americans, then you vote for John Kerry. He's your man.

I'm not comfortable with that. I want a president who takes seriously his pledge, his oath, to protect this country, and will continue fighting these Islamic murderers.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ZAHN: And the vice president entered the fray, too, Donna, basically saying today, look, in the past when we have ignored terrorism it has come back to haunt us.

What kind of mistake did John Kerry make there? We know that everybody's taking stuff out of context and all that, but the fact remains, he gave the opposition a lot of fodder here. Didn't he?

BRAZILE: You know, it doesn't take much to get these people, you know, frothing at the mouth at John Kerry.

Everyone knows that John Kerry understands that the war on terrorism is a very serious threat that faces this country, and Kerry has already outlined a very detailed plan of what he would do differently than this president to win the war on terror.

Look, it is a nuisance to have to put up with the threat level. In my case have to go through all of the different things to get home in the evening, because I live here close to the hill.

But the truth is, is that Kerry has a plan to fight terrorism. And if Dick Cheney and George Bush think they can continue to take his quotes out of context, go for it. But the American people understand that Kerry has a good, strong plan.

WATKINS: I don't think so.

ZAHN: He did say that, and in the same quote, he also talked about what a tremendous threat terrorism is. Are you comfortable with what your party has done with this quote?

WATKINS: I am very comfortable. Because after all...

ZAHN: You don't think they distorted the meaning of what he had to say?

WATKINS: Absolutely not. I have two brothers and a sister who went through 9/11.

ZAHN: You don't think John Kerry takes the threat of terrorism seriously?

WATKINS: My young brother was in World Trade 7. He saw the planes hit.

ZAHN: But come back to John Kerry.

WATKINS: Terrorism to him is a very, very real thing. It's never a nuisance. Terrorism is a real thing.

This is one of the reasons why Ed Koch is supporting George Bush for the presidency, because of the threat of terror and because of the president's strong resolve in ending terror.

ZAHN: So what you're saying is you buy into one part of what John Kerry said in that statement, but you discount the other half of the two sentences?

WATKINS: I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that terrorism is a great threat and that the belief of so many Americans, including me and my siblings, is that George Bush is best prepared to -- to help guard against that threat.

ZAHN: Donna, you wish -- Don't you wish that -- that John Kerry hadn't said that?

BRAZILE: I don't feel safer because George Bush is in the White House. I don't feel safer because George Bush is in the White House. That's -- that's bogus.

I would feel safe if we had a real effective strategy for winning the war on terror. And this president just a couple weeks ago, right at the Republican convention, said that he didn't think the war on terror could be won.

Now the truth is, is that we need a -- we need a credible plan to win this war on terrorism. And based on what George Bush has done since September 11, I don't know if he's up to the job.

ZAHN: Now Donna, wait a minute. I have to call you on...

WATKINS: He did a great job.

ZAHN: The president did say that one day and then the next day came back on the campaign trail and said, "Wait a minute. No, we can win this war."

BRAZILE: Paula, he doesn't make mistakes. He doesn't flip-flop.

WATKINS: Paula, we have -- we have a Department of Homeland Security that's doing a great job. Tom Ridge is doing a great job of leading the Department of Homeland Security. This president has a great plan, Donna, to deal with the issue of terrorism. ZAHN: If you had to give your candidate one line tomorrow, what do you want him to repeat throughout the debate? To gain some points on the president, Donna?

BRAZILE: He has to continue to be steady, in command of the facts. He's come across as very credible, but he needs to put the president on the defense on his miserable economic policy, the lack of a healthcare plan. And I think he needs to just continue to put the president on the defense, and he'll do very well tomorrow.

ZAHN: Robert, how many times will we hear liberal tax and spender when the president talks about John Kerry? Want to count?

WATKINS: After all, the president ought to be -- the president ought to be talking about liberal tax and spender. After all, this is the president who's the friend of the middle class, who gave us a tax cut. Ninety-four million Americans were impacted by the tax cut the president signed into law just last week.

ZAHN: And then we also know, earlier in the show, the poverty rate has never been higher, and we can go on and on and on.

BRAZILE: A friend of the middle class when the middle class over the last four years have gotten $300 from this president? He's a friend of the wealthy, and those who are well off and wealthy...

WATKINS: He's a friend of the working people. He's a friend of working people, Donna.

BRAZILE: Working people? He hasn't seen a working person. They're not even invited to his rallies.

ZAHN: You're going to lose my friendship, both of you, if you don't stop. I have to go to commercial break. Reverend Watkins, Donna Brazile, thank you both of you.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

ZAHN: Whatever the outcome at tomorrow's debate it will be a turning point in the political fates of George Bush and John Kerry. The final showdown and what to expect from the confrontation in Tempe when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And you are looking at the site of tomorrow's final showdown, Arizona State University in Tempe. Bush and Kerry toe-to- toe, one last time.

And then there was this debate from late-night comic Jay Leno.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": First off, I'd like to thank the president and Senator Kerry for having me here today.

President Bush, I'd like to start with...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Is my time up yet?

LENO: No. I haven't asked a question yet. I thought you'd be happy to know we recently found these documents that say you actually did serve in the National Guard.

BUSH: That's news to me!

LENO: Senator Kerry, on a more serious note, with Halloween just around the corner, do you have a problem with people mistaking you for Frankenstein?

KERRY: Is it a problem? Yes, it's a problem.

BUSH: Excuse me, President Bush, what -- what are you doing?

KERRY: The president's just trying to scare everybody here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Oh, boy! Late-night comics, loaded for bear and ready for the final presidential debate.

As we mentioned, tomorrow night is when the two candidates square off on domestic issues. And for a preview of has we might hear and not hear, I'm joined by CNN contributor and "TIME" magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Always good to see you, Joe. Welcome.

JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": They want Leno to moderate. No question about it.

ZAHN: It works. You'd keep an audience for three hours, I'm sure.

Let's move on to the issues you think will be addressed in tomorrow night's debate? The issue of the economy, healthcare and education. Are we going to learn anything different tomorrow night?

KLEIN: Probably not. These are well-established issues they have -- the two candidates have very distinct points of view on.

George Bush thinks that his tax cuts have helped improve the economy. The down side of that is that it's blowing a hole in the deficit, and the improvement has been kind of sketchy.

John Kerry is going to talk an awful lot about the middle class squeeze, about the high cost of healthcare, gasoline, education and so on. And he's also going to talk about creating jobs, which is a problem, because he's talking -- people are thinking that he's talking about manufacturing jobs, and those jobs are going to be very, very hard to bring back.

Plus, the president's argument that the best way to create jobs is through a low tax system on business is probably a stronger one.

ZAHN: Let's move on to two other issues -- or issues, that is, you think will be addressed tomorrow night, and that are -- energy, and what some consider an alarming rise in the price of gas right now, and social issues.

KLEIN: Well, on energy, neither one of them is going to tell you the truth. And the truth is that gas prices are never going to go back down to where they used to be.

That, in fact, oil is going to become increasingly more expensive, because the rest of the world, China, India, they're all using a lot more oil. They have a lot more automobiles.

The question is, whether you go with the president's route, which is essentially traditional energy sources, or John Kerry's route, conservation and renewables.

ZAHN: Or whether you get used to paying $5 a gallon for gas.

KLEIN: Well, we're going to be paying $3, $4, $5 a gallon for gas in the future, I firmly predict. It's a limited resource.

On -- on the social issues, once again this was -- these were Bush's best moments in the debate last week. His answer on abortion. His answer on stem cell research, which were very quiet and personal and a lot less bombastic.

ZAHN: And clear.

KLEIN: Yes. Than the others.

ZAHN: But people were confused by John Kerry's responses.

KLEIN: Well, I think that...

ZAHN: That he tried to have it both ways.

KLEIN: On abortion, he certainly did try to have it both ways, but his position, which is essentially pro-abortion the first three months of a pregnancy, is a popular position. And his position on stem cell research is a very popular position.

ZAHN: Let's move on to what you describe as the gorillas in the room, the things you won't hear these candidates get anywhere near tomorrow night?

KLEIN: The biggest thing you won't hear these candidates about, that people my age, the Baby Boom generation, we're about to retire, and we're going to send the costs of Social Security and Medicare through the roof.

And neither of these guys want to tackle it, because it only involves pain. It involves less -- fewer benefits or more taxes. And this is one of the biggest issues that are going to be facing our children, and it's one of the -- the real flaws in this campaign that neither of these guys are talking about.

ZAHN: We will see you tomorrow night in Tempe. Thanks, Joe...

KLEIN: My pleasure.

ZAHN: ... for dropping by tonight.

It has been a nasty campaign. But as Harry Truman once said about politics, if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. That is exactly where PRIME TIME POLITICS is headed, the bittersweet road to the White House, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We're told that Laura Bush can on occasion can be a tough cookie and that stylish Teresa Heinz Kerry is known by some from time to time to have a tart tongue.

And while the two woman say they are friends, they were pitted as rivals in a contest more about the kitchen than about politics, but how quickly things can get ugly.

Here's our Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beat it, plop it, pop it and let cool. A recipe for a bake-off gone bad.

They call it Cookie-Gate. It started as just another "Family Circle" bake-off, pitting first lady Laura Bush against challenger Teresa Heinz Kerry. Though it was Hillary Clinton who inspired the original contest with this catty cookie comment.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had tea.

MOOS: This year's contest pitted Mrs. Bush's recipe for oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies against Mrs. Heinz Kerry's recipe for pumpkin spice cookies.

Pumpkin provoked looks like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If her husband is like this cookie, he's a very crummy guy.

MOOS: And who doesn't like chocolate? So it was no surprise when "Family Circle" announced 67 percent of its readers preferred Mrs. Bush's cookies.

As for the pumpkin spice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing to be ashamed of. Perfectly fine cookie.

MOOS (on camera): Sixty-seven, 33. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Well.

MOOS: There's that to be ashamed of.

(voice-over) But the real scandal was when Mrs. Heinz Kerry disowned her own recipe.

TERESA HEINZ KERRY, JOHN KERRY'S WIFE: It's not mine, by the way. Somebody in our office gave that recipe out.

MOOS: Holy pumpkin spice, it gets worse!

KERRY: And in fact, I think somebody really made it on purpose to give a nasty recipe. I never made pumpkin cookies. I don't like pumpkin spice cookies.

MOOS: But there was more. "Family Circle" revealed Mrs. Heinz Kerry originally submitted a recipe for something called "Yummy Wonders," but when the recipe was tried here in the magazine's test kitchen, it didn't work at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were more like a cracker, really. If you were going to...

MOOS (on camera): They came out like crackers?

(voice-over) When the magazine asked Heinz Kerry's office if they'd like to make changes, they substituted the pumpkin spice recipe.

Taste testing on the street, we found Bush lovers who preferred Kerry's cookies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stay in the kitchen, not in the White House.

MOOS: And Kerry's fan who were aghast to discover they'd chosen the Bush cookies.

(on camera) You like Laura Bush's cookies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, Laura Bush?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no!

MOOS: You prefer Laura Bush's cookies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, God!

MOOS: And some Bush supporters were so scandalized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got some hot curry?

MOOS: They literally tossed their cookies.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: And she didn't tap into the undecided vote out there yet.

When we come back, the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And coming up in just about two minutes, Larry King's conversation with first lady Laura Bush.

But first, our continuing look at "Fortune" magazine's most powerful women. Tonight, Hewlett-Packard's Carly Fiorina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is no stranger to "Fortune" magazine's 50 most powerful women. But even with a reported $73 billion in revenues, the power player has slipped from the No. 1 spot because of missed earnings targets and execution problems.

PATTIE SELLERS, "FORTUNE": She is very powerful, because she is the chairman and CEO of the 11th company on the Fortune 500. Carly Fiorina has made a lot of really smart moves to re-invent Hewlett- Packard, as she said she wanted to do.

The challenge now is executing on the Compaq acquisition of a few years ago and making all this work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unlike previous battles, Fiorina now has to steer two technology companies through some apparently difficult times, but she believes the marriage is a good one and will help HP dominate emerging digital imaging and publishing markets.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And as we close out tonight, we move on to the results of our "Voting Booth" question: "What was that bulge on the back of the president's jacket during the first debate?"

I think you'll eventually see that picture. Eighty-eight percent say an electronic device. Six percent say a bulletproof vest. Two percent say bad tailoring. Four percent say a vast left-wing conspiracy.

Remember, this is not a scientific poll, and the White House refuses to comment.

That's all for now. Thanks so much for being with us. A reminder, we will be on the road tomorrow night. We will join you live at 8 p.m. for a preview of the last and final presidential debate. We hope you join us then.

That wraps it up for all of us here at PRIME TIME POLITICS. On to "LARRY KING LIVE" and first lady Laura Bush. Thanks again for joining us tonight.

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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