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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Interview With Senator John Kerry

Aired October 15, 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 thank you so much for joining us tonight. Welcome.
Tonight, she prefers to stay out of the spotlight, but John Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney has set off a stormy reaction. It is a political distraction, or is it? Or should the vice president's daughter be off-limits?

Also, the voices behind those campaign ads, do they really believe in the politics they're pitching? We'll take you behind the scenes.

But, first, our exclusive PRIME TIME POLITICS interview with Senator John Kerry.

Today, in Milwaukee, he sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. And Candy joins us now from Milwaukee.

Hi, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Paula.

It seems to me that John Kerry was fairly calm, seemed very upbeat. Mostly, if I were to take away an impression from the 15, 20 minutes we spent with him, very, very cautious. He's by nature a cautious politician.

But with 18 days left to go, this is a campaign that feels that they're on the right track, and they're headed in the right direction. They're very excited about their ground game. They say, we've got a great team out there. They say it's unprecedented in its numbers. So, mostly, it seemed to me what he was trying to do in the interview was to be very, very careful.

ZAHN: And we're going to take a look now at that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: We're on the stage where you just gave an economic speech. I want to bring it down to one person. A middle-aged guy lives in Wisconsin. He doesn't have a job. John Kerry becomes president in January. His life changes February, March, April?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, his life will change very quickly providing Congress responds. There are immediate things that I can do with respect to trade policy, immediate things I can do in the regulatory system that will help. But the most important thing is to lower the cost of health care and to raise incomes for middle class Americans, put in place a $4,000 tuition tax credit, get a $1,000 into the pocket of Americans by lowering their health care premiums.

CROWLEY: But can you get him a job?

KERRY: Well, I -- directly, day one? No. I'm not going to pretend that I can do that on day one. But what I can do is put in place policies that are going to expand the private sector of America. And I will do that. I'll do that by closing the tax loophole that encourages companies to go overseas. I'll do it by providing a manufacturing job credit which could have an immediate impact on helping companies to expand here in America. I can do it by creating a fair playing field in trade so that companies are more inclined to stay here.

And if you lower the cost of health care, Candy, you really make American companies more competitive. And that's what I'm going to do.

CROWLEY: A lot of talk about the programs that we've heard you talk about now for two years.

KERRY: I know.

CROWLEY: You will not end Social Security. You don't want to raise the age. You don't want to lower the benefits. And you don't want to privatize. You want to make health care available to as many people as possible. You want to add to the loans and grants for college. You want to fully fund No Child Left Behind. You want to increase veterans' benefits. You want to give another tax cut for the middle class.

KERRY: Correct.

CROWLEY: That's an awful lot of money. And a lot of people say you are...

KERRY: Actually...

CROWLEY: ... falling very short. Where are you going to -- you know, I know that you want to pay for a lot with those tax cuts but...

KERRY: No, you can't pay for all of it from that. And I've shown exactly where I'm going to pay for it. Principle number one -- and I want Americans to here this clearly, principle number one, with which I am approaching the budget, is we have to reinstate pay-as-you- go and we have to be fiscally responsible.

Now every program you just listed, I've shown precisely how we're going to pay for it. We pay for it partly by rolling back the tax cut for people earning over $200,000 a year. I give a tax cut, cut, to 98 percent of Americans. All of middle class America gets $1,000 tax credit for child care, a $4,000 tuition tax credit for college, and we lower the cost of health care. I also close corporate tax loopholes. We have $40 billion going to Bermuda and other countries. We have incredible giveaways through the tax code that subsidize companies for going overseas. I don't want to the American worker subsidizing a company that goes overseas, I want them to give a tax credit break to a company that creates jobs here.

I'm going to cut 100,000 contractors from the federal government. I'm going to consolidate 70 different statistical agencies into one. I'm going to consolidate 10 export agencies into one. So we're going to actually -- George Bush has the biggest government, biggest spending in American history. We can reduce the burden on the taxpayer and put money into these things that are more valuable.

CROWLEY: Let me turn you to Iraq. Over the past couple of days, three car bombs in Baghdad, many deaths. We have the full scale attack now on Fallujah. When you came back from Vietnam, the word "quagmire" was used quite a bit. You said: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

You have called this war the wrong war, wrong time, wrong place, which says to me a mistake. Why do you think we have to stay in Iraq when you didn't think we should stay in Vietnam?

KERRY: They're very different. This is a war on terror, that was a civil war, an ideological war.

CROWLEY: But you said there wasn't a terror threat, right?

KERRY: Oh, there is now. That's the problem. The problem is that where there wasn't a connection to al Qaeda, now you have this extraordinary magnet that has been created for jihadists who have crossed the border in the thousands. And it is a haven for terrorism now. And I have said...

CROWLEY: So we are staying

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: But I've also said since day one -- no, what you have to do now, Candy, is make certain that it isn't a mistake. And the way you make certain it isn't a mistake is to do it right, which is what I have said from day one.

I believed you had to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. And I said from day one there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. This administration in almost every decision chose the wrong way. I mean, they look how they went to war. They went to war without giving our soldiers the body armor they need. They went to war without the Humvees that are armored. They went to war without adequate troops. Paul Bremer has said that. General Shinseki said that.

You have to be accountable for your decisions. The decision they made was to go to war without adequate planning to win the peace. Now we're paying the price. I know how to win this peace. And we have to win it and I'm determined to win it. And we have to win the war on terror. But I can fight a smarter, more effective war on terror than George Bush has. And I can bring allies to our side.

George Bush has pushed people away and isolated America rather that America joining with other people to isolate the radical extremists of Islam. I think that you have to separate them from the real Islam and the religion. They haven't done that effectively. I will.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Three successful debates helped pull John Kerry even with the president in the polls. But his mention of the vice president's lesbian daughter during the debate has stoked a controversy over whether that reference was a cheap political trick.

CROWLEY: How comfortable would you be if one of your political opponents used your daughter's sexual orientation to make a point of their own?

ZAHN: More of Candy Crowley's special interview with John Kerry and the Republican ruckus over Mary Cheney coming up.

And our voting booth question of the day. Is Mary Cheney's sexual orientation a fair campaign issue? You can vote at CNN.com/Paula.

The results and much more ahead tonight on PRIME TIME POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back.

Before the break, we heard from Senator John Kerry on health care, taxes, terrorism, and the war in Iraq. And in the second part of Candy Crowley's exclusive interview, Senator Kerry responds to the controversy over his comment during the last debate about Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: How comfortable would you be if one of your political opponents used your daughter's sexual orientation to make a point of their own?

KERRY: I've said what I'm going to say about that yesterday, it was meant as a very constructive comment, in a positive way. I respect their love for their daughter and I respect who she is, as they do.

CROWLEY: Do you understand why the Cheneys are upset that this feels like an invasion of their privacy? KERRY: They have talked about it themselves publicly.

CROWLEY: But you know other gay -- other people with gay children, you could've mentioned them, but you specifically mentioned her.

KERRY: I think that people understand. They've become familiar with that particular situation. I think it was a way of saying, look, she's who she is. I have great respect for her, great respect for them. It was meant constructively in terms of their love and affection for a person who is she is.

CROWLEY: Your buddy John McCain said it was inappropriate.

KERRY: Well, people have different opinions. I've said what I've said.

CROWLEY: Let me ask about Ralph Nader. He was quoted in "The New York Times" today, saying that you are not your own man, that you've let George Bush push you to the right, that you're taking your liberal base for granted and that it doesn't say much for your character. Can you respond to that?

KERRY: Well, let me just say that my record and my -- what I want to do for America is the response to that. I want to provide health care to all Americans. And I have a plan to do it. George Bush does not.

I led the fight to stop the drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. I'm very proud of that accomplishment. I lead the fight to stop Newt Gingrich from undoing the Clean Air, Clean Water Act. I've fought against powerful interests my entire life. And I'm not going to take a second seat to anybody, including Ralph Nader, in terms of my agenda for this nation, fighting to raise the minimum wage, fighting to guarantee equal pay for women, fighting to guarantee that the middle class gets a fair shake in their tax breaks, not to corporations.

If people want a change and they want responsibility for the middle class in America, don't throw away your vote.

There is only one choice here. Either George Bush is going to be president, or John Kerry.

CROWLEY: Have you talked to Ralph Nader? Since I know you saw him in early spring -- maybe in late spring...

KERRY: No, I haven't had a chance to.

CROWLEY: Is anybody trying to talk him out of this, because there are some Democrats that are worried he could make a difference?

KERRY: I've had no conversation with him. And I'm not aware of anybody who is.

CROWLEY: Are you worried? KERRY: I'm confident the American people are going to look at this race as the most important election of our lifetime. There could be four justices of the Supreme Court at stake in this race. Certainly fairness for middle class Americans who are increasingly squeezed. They've seen their income go down, $1,500. Their jobs going overseas, the jobs that replace them pay $9,000 less. If people want an economy that's fiscally responsible and we want a future where we engage with other nations responsibly as we have in the past, there really is only one vote I think.

CROWLEY: You've said repeatedly throughout this campaign that George Bush misled the American people into Iraq. More recently you came closer to the L-word, saying he has lied. Did George Bush deliberately distort intelligence information because he wanted to go to war in Iraq?

KERRY: Candy, I can't tell you that.

CROWLEY: But you think it's possible?

KERRY: I can't get into the intent.

What I know is this, that the president made a promise, a series of promises to America. He stood up in Cincinnati and he said to us, before we voted, we will take every precaution. We will plan carefully. War is not inevitable. He said he would go to the U.N. and go through that process respectfully.

Now Candy, he didn't. He didn't let the inspectors finish their job. He didn't built a real global coalition. He didn't go to war as a last resort. And all I can do...

CROWLEY: But did he lie to get us to go along with it?

KERRY: Candy, I'm not -- I think that language is -- I've never used it and I'm not about to tonight. I think that he misled America in the statements he made about what he would do. And, look, how can you call leaving 850,000 tons of ammunition unguarded planning carefully?

How do you call not having enough troops and firing your Army chief of staff who tells you you're going to need 200,000 troops or more and you basically retire him early -- how do you call that listening and planning carefully? How do you send troops without the body armor and the Humvees that are armored and without adequate -- without the 4th Infantry Division in the north and all the things we needed to make certain that this was successful/

I believe this president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace and America is paying an extraordinary, hundreds of billions -- $200 billion price. And, more importantly, our young are at risk. I want those young properly protected and I'm going to put in place a policy that does it.

CROWLEY: Name me one mistake that you've made in the past three- and-a-half years as a public policy-maker. (LAUGHTER)

KERRY: Gosh.

I think I made a mistake in terms of the breadth of some of the programs that I have talked about in the primaries, because the deficit was larger than we anticipated and we obviously couldn't afford it. So I've scaled them back since then.

CROWLEY: You never once said to yourself, I wish I hadn't voted for that war resolution?

KERRY: No, it wasn't -- because, you see, what we did, we gave the president the authority to load the gun, to hold the trigger so to speak. We didn't tell him to shoot himself in the foot. We gave him an authority that he had to use properly. I would have wanted that authority if I was president because it was the only way Saddam Hussein ever responded to anything was with that threat of force.

But I would have used it very differently and more responsibly. That's the difference.

CROWLEY: Last question. Name two mistakes the Red Sox have made?

(LAUGHTER)

KERRY: Oh, gosh.

(LAUGHTER)

KERRY: How about Grady Little not pulling Pedro a year ago, and maybe a trade here or there.

CROWLEY: Pretty painful.

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: But, you know, being a Red Sox is the way to kind of really be in touch with the ups and downs of life.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Thank you, Senator. Appreciate it.

KERRY: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Candy is back with us now.

Candy, I could come up with 12 big mistakes the Red Sox have made over the years.

Now back to John Kerry. Let's talk a little bit more about the controversy, with the senator bringing up Mary Cheney's name during the debate. He is getting creamed, even from some Democrats, for being insensitive in making those comments. How does he change the focus? Does he turn this around?

CROWLEY: Well, I think he -- he certainly tried to do it tonight by saying, look, I've said everything I'm going to say, which is what politicians say when they don't want to talk about something anymore. So they're trying to -- he clearly is trying to not talk about it anymore.

He was asked about it when he did a "Des Moines Register" editorial board meeting, and he told them then that he was trying to draw a distinction between George Bush's policies and Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter. And now, of course, he says, well, I was just -- I was saying this, you know, as a compliment.

So it's a tough one to get over. Is it in the long run something that's really going to affect the vote? I sincerely doubt it. What the problem is, is that it's a distraction. They don't want a distraction right now. They want to keep on a roll. And anything that gives you a bump in the road they don't like, and this is a bump in the road.

ZAHN: Sure. And it's at least a 24-hour distraction here. Or, actually, over the weekend, it goes longer than that.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

ZAHN: Let's talk about the senator's reputation as being a guy that comes in for the close. Some people have called him the comeback kid. Bill Weld remembers how strongly he came back in the end of his campaign in Massachusetts.

CROWLEY: You know, what's interesting to me, Paula, is that when I covered George Bush in 2000, that's what everybody said about him. They said, oh, this is a guy who you know, when it's just kind of the first inning or the second inning, he kind of can lay back and he's not really trying, but I tell you, he is a gamer. And when the game comes down to the ninth inning, he can really slug them.

So I'm always interested when I hear people say that about John Kerry. There are those who say, look, you know, the circumstances under which that is true, that John Kerry came on very strongly -- let's just take the primary -- was that because John Kerry came on strong or was that because Howard Dean blew it?

So there's another side to that. And a lot of his detractors say it had more to do with the particular races they're talking about than the fact that he's a strong closer.

ZAHN: Candy Crowley.

(HONKING)

ZAHN: Oh, look, that honk came on time.

(LAUGHTER) ZAHN: Have a good weekend. Enjoy your travels on the campaign trail.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: You heard John Kerry's response to Candy Crowley's question about using Mary Cheney to make a political point. But the controversy surrounding her sparked even more fire between the campaigns -- that, plus more political news of the day, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: There was a pretty terrifying moment out there on the campaign trail this afternoon. Senator John Edwards' plane aborted its takeoff from Cleveland when a warning light came on just as the jet was speeding down the runway. Nobody was hurt. Apparently, the problem was fixed. The plane left about an hour later.

Now, at this point in the race, the campaigns are making every effort to stay on schedule, because they're focused on two things, seeing as many voters as possible and the calendar.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Only 18 days left, and the race too close to call. It's time to take off the coat and tie, bring along the first lady, and motivate the true believers.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Keep putting up the signs, keep making the phone calls, turn out the vote, and we will win.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: On the stump today, President Bush again and again labeled Senator Kerry as a liberal.

BUSH: You know, on issue after issue, from Medicare without choices to schools with less accountability to higher taxes, my opponent takes the side of more centralized control and more government. There's a word for that attitude. It's called liberalism.

ZAHN: The president's stump speech doesn't mention the outrage sparked by Senator Kerry's bringing up Mary Cheney's homosexuality during this week's debate, although aboard Air Force One, his spokesman told reporters President Bush believes the remark was inappropriate.

The chairmen of both political parties are exchanging fire as well.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: George Bush lost three debates, and they're trying to now divert attention away from George Bush's disastrous performance in his... ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: These people will say anything if they think it will help them score political points.

ZAHN: But back on the campaign trail, a question to the vice president brought an upbeat answer about his family and the campaign.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for Lynne and me, and I think for our family. We've enjoyed it immensely.

And, as I say, there are moments when it gets a little rough out there, but that goes with the turf, and -- so we're pleased to have been part of it, proud to have been part of it.

ZAHN: And it isn't over yet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And, as we just heard, Senator Kerry's debate comment about the vice president's daughter is still making headlines. In case you missed it, here's exactly what the senator said on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: We're all God's children, Bob. And I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And then there was the angry response yesterday from the vice president's wife.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: This is not a good man. This is not a good man. And, of course, I am speaking as a mom and a pretty indignant mom. This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And last night at our own town hall meeting in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, I asked the vice president's other daughter, Liz, about what Senator Kerry said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIZ CHENEY, DAUGHTER OF VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I was offended.

ZAHN: And tell me why.

CHENEY: I think that it was out of bounds.

ZAHN: Why? CHENEY: For Senator Kerry to exploit the child of his opponent to make political point on his own, for his own political gain. And I have to say I think that I, like many Americans all across this country today, are wondering what kind of a man would do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: So, was Senator Kerry out of line mentioning the vice president's daughter, or is the Bush campaign trying to make something out of nothing and distract potential voters out there?

We turn to Republican Congressman Peter King of New York.

ZAHN: Did you have a problem with John Kerry mentioning Mary Cheney's name the other night during the debate?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I did, because I felt it was gratuitous. It served no purpose. And it was done intentionally or John Kerry was incredibly insensitive.

I just found it very jarring. It had no real purpose in the debate. Mary Cheney is not part of the campaign as far as a gay or lesbian advocate. The work she does for her father is internal. She may travel with him, but she's not any kind of liaison to the gay or lesbian community. And she really has no role in the campaign involving that issue.

And I just felt it was entirely gratuitous, and, really, I think, it invaded on the privacy of the family.

ZAHN: And if you believe in part it might have been intentional, what do you think John Kerry was trying to gain from that remark?

KING: Well, whatever he was trying to do, I think it caught everyone, again, not just off guard, but really they were jarred by it.

And even John Kerry -- I didn't notice it when I first heard it, but when I listened to the tape of it, he seemed himself to be awkward when he said it. He hesitated. Then he rushed through it, which was unusual for him, because usually he says things the way he wants to. So it seemed that even he knew he was doing something here that was inappropriate. But he took a shot anyway.

ZAHN: Earlier tonight, we heard the senator tell Candy Crowley that he meant no offense by his remarks. In fact, he said he meant them to be constructive and that it was his way of saying, look how families have to come together here. You don't believe him?

KING: Well, either he's not telling the truth or he was just amazingly insensitive to the situation. Listen, all of us know families who have family members who are gay or lesbian. We know the trauma they go through, how they have to try to come to terms with that, how they adjust to it and they realize the pressures that are on members of the family. And that should be a family issue. For John Kerry to on his own talk for Mary Cheney to say what he thought was on Mary Cheney's mind and to bring that issue out, to me, was just incredibly insensitive. And I've heard this from any number of people, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, people who have gay members in their family.

They just thought it was wrong. And either John Kerry did it intentionally or he was just terribly insensitive. And, also, you follow on to that what Elizabeth Edwards said when she questioned the integrity of Mrs. Cheney and said that somehow that Lynne Cheney is ashamed of her daughter, that really went over the line.

ZAHN: Can you explain something to me, though? Because it was during the vice presidential debate when John Edwards brought up Mary Cheney's name that the vice president thanked him for his warm words. What's changed?

KING: Well, in that case, Gwen Ifill had actually mentioned it in her question to the vice president about his family's situation. And she said a family member. The vice president answered the question. Then John Edwards came back and, you know, mentioned Mary Cheney.

Dick Cheney -- listen, I can't speak for Dick Cheney. Either he felt that John Edwards was acting in good faith because Gwen Ifill had mentioned it in the question or, if you noticed, Dick Cheney didn't go on any more. He just said, I thank Senator Edwards, and that was it. He didn't go any further with it. But, again, the vice president was sitting there. It was brought up in the question by Gwen Ifill.

ZAHN: Congressman, if you believe there's a possibility maybe he was using this to drive a wedge between flanks of the Republican Party, between the conservatives and perhaps the more liberal members of the party, what is your judgment? Are Republicans comfortable with the notion the vice president's daughter is a lesbian?

KING: Absolutely. I mean, any Republican I know feels this is a matter of private choice. The issue comes down to the constitutional issue or the legal issue of whether or not gay or lesbian relationships should be sanctioned in a legal marriage. But as far as what a person's choice is, I think all of us have come far enough to know that this is a situation in society where any number of people who we work with day by day who are in sports or in politics, in business, can be gays or lesbians. And that's life.

ZAHN: So you're basically saying the senator was wasting his time if his intent was to drive some sort of wedge between conservatives and other members of the Republican Party?

KING: Listen, they may have seen some poll numbers that show some people somewhere who might be voting for President Bush may react that way or they just might feel that by putting the president and the vice president on the defensive by raising an issue between them, that somehow it would make the ticket look bad and therefore, again, pick up some cheap votes for themselves.

ZAHN: Congressman Peter King, we've got to leave it there. Thanks for joining us as you head into your weekend.

And the controversy over Mary Cheney is our voting booth question of the day. Go to CNN.com/Paula and let us know what you think.

In the end the White House is won by getting the most electoral votes. We've been tracking the electoral dynamics of this campaign and there has been a major change for one of the candidates in two battleground states. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back. We like to get a variety of views here on PRIME TIME POLITICS. So here's a look at the presidential debates through the lens of late night television.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O'BRIEN, NBC: You know, actually, this is a true story. The TV networks were afraid that nobody would watch the third debate last night. I don't know where you all watched it. But here's how it aired in New York. Take a look.

BOB SCHIEFFER, MODERATOR: Will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?

KERRY: Yes.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

JAY LENO: You know something, I just hope Martha Stewart didn't watch that debate last night. You know? She must be sitting in prison thinking, these guys are running around free and they put me in jail for lying? What is that all about?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, the presidential debates have certainly given the late night comics plenty of material, but they also seem to be making a difference in the campaign. We are seeing some dramatic changes in our exclusive CNN electoral map. For the past two weeks it stood at 301 electoral votes for President Bush, 237 for Senator Kerry. But if the election were held today, Ohio and New Hampshire would switch to the senator. The president still has a winning total of 277 electoral votes to 261. However, this is the first time the senator's actually taken states away from the president.

Joining me to discuss what is happening is CNN political editor John Mercurio. Always good to see you.

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Always good to see you.

ZAHN: So what the heck is going on in Ohio?

MERCURIO: It's interesting. Bush for the past month that we've been doing this electoral map has been soaring. He's been digging into these Democratic states, you know, these states that Kerry really needed to lock up in order to win. But since then, over the past month, we've seen three televised debates. We've had one jobs report, an unemployment report with sort of disappointing numbers for the president. We've seen massive organization in voter registration drives by the Democratic Party. And I think combined that brings us to today, when as you said, Kerry is picking up states for the first time.

Now, you've got to remember this map is still extremely tight. Bush does still hold a lead, like you said. But if you look at the states that are really, really close, states like Wisconsin, New Mexico, Iowa and Florida, we give all those states to President Bush. So there's potential there for Kerry to grow even further, and I think there's some concern in the Bush campaign of that.

ZAHN: Well, how does the Bush campaign read this map?

MERCURIO: The Bush campaign knows that they need Ohio. I mean, as we've all heard the statistic, historically no Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. So I talked to -- or we talked earlier today to Matthew Dowd, who's Bush's chief pollster, who urged us to leave Ohio in the Bush column. We decided not to do that. He made two points. He said, first, tracking polls that they've have shown that Bush has gained actually since the debate, which is hard to believe because most of the polls that I've seen for the three debates show that ...

ZAHN: So is that wishful thinking on his part?

MERCURIO: And he had this other sort of strange theory, Paula, that I thought was sort of interesting. He said that because Kerry is pulling out of West Virginia, which is located next to Ohio, we should still leave Ohio in their column. I'm not sure I follow the logic of that, because we have obviously polling that shows the contrary.

ZAHN: Well, let's talk about some other areas that might be a little dicier for the senator. You mentioned New Mexico, Wisconsin, Iowa. How do those numbers look?

MERCURIO: The numbers for...

ZAHN: Electorally in those states and how they'll turn.

MERCURIO: Say that again. I'm sorry?

ZAHN: Iowa, New Mexico and Wisconsin.

MERCURIO: Yeah. Well ...

ZAHN: These are states that Gore had won...

MERCURIO: Those are state that Gore had won...

ZAHN: ... in the year 2000.

MERCURIO: Right, and I don't think that the Kerry campaign is dismissing the fact that they can win those states. They're still pushing hard. But there does seem to be much more of a focus, Paula, on the big red states, on the states like Ohio, the states like Florida. We have this theory that everybody knows that there's three states -- Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. If you win two of those states, you win the race. So I think we're seeing the Kerry campaign focusing a lot on trying to win those states, the big red states, the states that Bush won.

ZAHN: And you have all the fun of watching these numbers on a daily basis. John, we're going to make you sit right there and come back and join us for another segment.

When we come back, we'll look at the changes sweeping across one very important western state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The voters that have come here are not attached to the older political culture, which was more conservative and more Republican. They're up for grabs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: From a sure thing to an uphill climb. The fight for Colorado's voters right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: One of the biggest wild cards in the upcoming election is Colorado and that is a surprise. Joe Johns looks at what has turned the centennial state into the unpredictable state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a recipe for a Rocky mountain recount. An overwhelmed election system, a dead heat presidential race, party operatives swarming the state, lawyers right behind.

FLOYD GIRULT, COLORADO POLITICAL ANALYST: There will be an incredible number of glitches. The system is simply not going to work due to the volume, much less anybody playing games.

JOHNS: Early this year, Colorado appeared to be solid Bush country, with 180,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. The seasons have changed and so have the numbers. Go to a town like Golden, home of Coors beer and GOP Senate candidate Pete Coors and it's still hard to find a Democrat on the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush.

JOHNS: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I don't like Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to vote for W. JOHN: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why? I think we've got to stay the course with what George is doing.

JOHNS: But elsewhere in Colorado, the Republican edge has eroded. Election officials reported a stunning 300,000 new voters registering this year, most of them independents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our men are dying. Our women are dying. We spent too much money on people that hate us and loathe us and want us out of their country. And he's not telling us the truth about what's going on in Iraq.

JOHNS: The Democratic surge is a reflection of a big cultural change in Colorado. The dominance of traditional conservative views has been eroded by a new wave of migration, young chasing high-tech jobs and the state's natural beauty and not tied to either party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it's a beautiful state and the climate's great and there were job opportunities.

JOHNS: Communities like this one, Highlands Ranch, one of the new western boom towns, are at the center of a population shift that is changing the politics of Colorado in unpredictable ways.

Another factor adding to the unpredictability -- the U.S. Senate race. When Republican Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell decided not to run for reelection, politics became as wild as the old west. Colorado's Democratic attorney general Ken Salazar jumped in to run against Pete Coors. Salazar is a Hispanic and a moderate who appeals to independents. He's drawing record support from the state's huge Hispanic population, support that might help John Kerry if they vote the party line.

GIRULT: Colorado is really a classic high growth state. So we have a lot of younger voters, a lot of Hispanic voters have joined the rolls. The voters that have come here are not attached to the older political culture which was more conservative and more Republican. They're up for grabs.

JOHNS: And there's one more wild card -- a ballot initiative organized by a small group of activists that would take Colorado's nine electoral votes and split them up according to the popular vote instead of the current winner takes all system. If approved, it would take effect immediately, and if the national race is as close as 2000, the runner-up here could pick up just enough electoral college votes to ascend to the presidency.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That report from our Joe Johns. With me once again is CNN political editor John Mercurio. So if this initiative passes, isn't it about 100 percent shot it's going to be challenged in court?

MERCURIO: Yeah, and that's really what scares me, Paula. I have to say the Colorado scenario is what really scares me, because I have a vacation planned for late in November and I really want to go on it.

ZAHN: Wait, what does the initiative have to do with that? You won't be able to go skiing in the state?

MERCURIO: If there's a challenge, if the election is really close, if Colorado really matters --

ZAHN: Oh, I see what you mean, you'll be working. I thought this was a diatribe on the people of Colorado.

MERCURIO: If there's a four or five electoral vote difference, yeah, then I think you're going to see both sides -- or the side that lost take this into the courts and we're all going to become experts on Colorado election law and we're all going to be spending December in Denver.

ZAHN: What is ...

MERCURIO: There are worse places to spend December.

ZAHN: Well, absolutely. We all love heading to the Rockies. But if this initiative passes, is there a sense that it will create a wave of support in other states across the country?

MERCURIO: It's really hard to say. I mean, there hasn't been any sort of comprehensive look at how other states view this. We'll know a lot more I think after it happens. It would take a long time, obviously, for this to become sort of a national trend. Every state has to vote independently on an amendment. But it would be really interesting -- I think first of all it would be a major erosion of the Electoral College. I mean, the point of which we -- is to give each state as an entity a major role in choosing the president. But it would be really interesting -- it would totally change the dynamics of the campaign. It would totally change the issues that the candidates cover and it would fundamentally alter the battleground. We're talking now, we've been talking all year about the 17 or 18 states that we're focusing on. We would have to be focusing on twice as many states I think in that case. So we'd get a lot more travel and it would be interesting. I think it's something we should definitely be keeping an eye on.

ZAHN: That's all we need around here, is a little more travel so we can try to remember what time zone we're living in. John Mercurio, thanks. He's had a long week as well. We've all been on the road together. Have a good weekend.

MERCURIO: Thank you.

ZAHN: Most Americans probably say no one is going to tell them how to vote. How wrong they are. We're going to meet the voices behind all those political ads when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Sometimes people you never see make all the difference. That's what candidates hope for with the voices you hear on political commercials. And with the millions spent on campaign ads, there's a lot riding on those vocal chords. Here's our Bruce Burkhardt.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): I'm Bruce Burkhardt and I not only approved this story, but I'm voicing it too. Just like Alan Blevis is giving voice to this ad for a Democratic congressman.

ALAN BLEVIS, VOICE TALENT: Imagine this. The year is 1968.

BURKHARDT: And Betsy Ames is doing the same for a Republican congressman.

BETSY AMES, VOICE TALENT: Your vote does make a difference.

BURKHARDT: They are the invisible people, as invisible as they are critical to persuading you to vote for the right guy.

JOE SLADE WHITE, DEMOCRATIC MEDIA CONSULTANT: And if there's any false notes in it in the tone of voice then you don't know why you don't like a commercial but it's because of that, because it doesn't sound true, it doesn't ring true. We say ring true because it's a sound.

BURKHARDT: Joe Slade White, like most media consultants, is on the go in this election season, from the back seat of a Washington, D.C. cab he directs a voice-over session in a New York studio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he knows firsthand the difference that education can mean for our children.

WHITE: What was the time on that, Mark?

BURKHARDT: Alan Blevis has worked with Joe for years and other Democrats, including Clinton and Gore. Like most political voice-over talent, he only works one side of the street, in his case Democratic.

BLEVIS: I don't agree with everything every candidate does -- every candidate believes in. But the premise of the party in my opinion is what I am in favor of.

AMES: Your vote does make a difference.

BURKHARDT: Betsy Ames, who does exclusively Republican ads, says it just worked out that way. They asked first.

AMES: This is my business. I'm an actress. I'm the messenger. How file about it has absolutely nothing to do with it.

BURKHARDT: But what makes Betsy's voice or Alan's for that matter desired voices for a political ad? Is there a scientific way to determine what kind of voices are more persuasive?

TOM EDMONDS, REPUBLICAN MEDIA CONSULTANT: I don't think there's science in picking out voice talent in a political ad, but I think there's an art to it. BURKHARDT: Tom Edmonds, a Republican consultant who was behind the highly effective NRA ads in the 2000 election, works with Betsy often.

AMES: All right. Let's do a safety of the safety.

BURKHARDT: And if there's one thing Republican and Democratic consultants agree on, it's the importance of the voice.

EDMONDS: Not only are they bringing your ideas to life and making something believable, but you're telling them that they have to do it a half a second faster than what they just did it. But don't make it sound any more rushed, just do it a half a second faster. Well, that's great. I mean, it is talent. And that's why it is called talent. It takes a talent.

BURKHARDT: Like most political voice-over talents, Betsy and Alan come from theater backgrounds. This is, after all, an acting task. And a good actor knows that an attack ad doesn't have to sound like you're attacking.

AMES: Al Gore. Claiming credit for things he didn't even do.

There's a whole disappointed mom thing. It doesn't have to be can you believe what they did? It's like, they've done it again. Isn't it sad? You know. And that's -- whoever hears it is oh, my God, it's my mother telling me how disappointed she is.

BURKHARDT: The use of women's voices in ads has been increasing.

AMES: Patty Murray has a different view.

BURKHARDT: So too have male voices that sound friendlier, conversational. The strong authoritative voice, the so-called voice of God, is on the outs.

WHITE: If the quality of the voice says I'm not going to listen to you, I'm just going to tell you things, then people are going to get turned off.

BURKHARDT: And though we like to think we're turned on by matters of substance, maybe we're moved more by the candidate who's found his or her voice.

WHITE: Yeah. Why don't we play that back? I think that was really, really good.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Bruce Burkhardt reporting for us tonight. We'll have the results of tonight's voting booth poll when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Now a look at some of the results of our PRIME TIME POLITICS voting booth poll. We asked, is Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughter sexual orientation a fair campaign issue? 77 percent of you said yes, 23 percent of you said no. A reminder, this is not a scientific poll. It's just a reflection of those of you who went online and answered the question for us tonight.

As the race for the White House enters the home stretch, we're going to continue to take the pulse of undecided voters on the road. We have two more town hall meetings coming up next Thursday. October 21st we'll be joining voters in Clark County, Ohio, along with representatives of both the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

And then finally on November 1, the night before the election, I'll be in Kissimmee, Florida, near Orlando. If you want to submit a question for our upcoming town meetings, just go to cnn.com/paula. And that's enough for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. We hope you all have a really good weekend and be back with us again Monday night. LARRY KING LIVE is next.

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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