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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Undecided Voters in Florida Ask Questions of Campaigns

Aired November 1, 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: Tonight, PRIME TIME POLITICS comes to you from the beautiful Osceola County Courthouse here in Kissimmee, Florida. Welcome back to state that was the final battleground of the 2000 presidential election.
There couldn't be a more appropriate place to be than here in Florida on the eve of election 2004. Republicans, Democrats, undecideds have a very important question on their minds tonight: Will it happen again?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): This has been and could be again the road to the White House, a 132-mile stretch of highway dividing Florida from Daytona Beach to Tampa. It's called the I-4 Corridor and many consider it to be the swing part of this swing state.

Explosive growth in tourism, technology and agriculture has brought a new population, lured by the promise of jobs and a fresh start. People here have a reputation as independent-minded voters with few political allegiances. President Bush and Senator Kerry know all too well that these votes are up for grabs. That's why each swing through the Sunshine State inevitably includes a pit stop on I-4.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking for votes in Florida as the place to come.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You all in Florida have a head start in this election.

ZAHN: They talk tough on all the issues. But the issue that I-4 voters tell pollsters will influence them the most, the war on terror.

BUSH: We're defending the homeland.

KERRY: My No. 1 priority will be to protect the American people.

ZAHN: And just as the interstate divides Florida, this issue divides I-4 voters.

John Liatine (ph) has lived in Orlando for eight years and was a Democrat until 9/11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think Kerry can do the job. I don't consider him a leader.

ZAHN: Angela Pike is an I-4 native who believes Senator Kerry will wage a better and safer war on terror.

ANGELA PIKE, VOTER: I feel no more protected than what I did on 9/11.

ZAHN: But there is one issue that unites these people, preventing the kind of controversy that marred their state and the election in 2000. Just hours until the polls open, our town hall stops in Florida's crucial I-4 Corridor, tonight, a last night for these voters to ask the questions and get the answers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is a PAULA ZAHN NOW election eve special, "A Town Hall Meeting: The Undecided Vote."

Live from Kissimmee, Florida, here is Paula Zahn.

(APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: Thank you very, very much and welcome.

Tonight, I'm here with more than 100 voters from this critical region of Florida.

Thank you for inviting us into your beautiful courthouse. And I assume you do not want a repeat of 2000 in your great state, right?

AUDIENCE: No.

ZAHN: Are we going to see a repeat of what happened in the year 2000?

AUDIENCE: No.

ZAHN: All right. You heard it here first.

Something very special tonight. We're going to take some extra time for tonight's town meeting, with the discussion continuing at 11:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Now, as you know, the interest in this election is huge. For example, 91 percent of Florida's registered voters say they have given quite a lot of thought to tomorrow's election. And thanks to the states early voting system, 30 percent of them have already cast their ballots. As for the presidential race itself, our latest nationwide poll of likely voters shows the president with a two-point lead over Senator Kerry.

But now look at this. When we factor in those critical undecided voters, the race becomes a dead heat, 49 to 49 percent, all the more reason to be in Florida night.

And we have a brand-new Florida state CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. It shows Senator Kerry with a one-point lead among likely voters. In other words, it is a toss-up here, too. For the presidential candidates, it has been one last marathon. President Bush campaigned in Florida this past weekend. Today, he is making seven stops in six states before heading back to his Texas ranch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: The American president must lead with clarity and purpose. The role of the president is to not follow the path of the latest poll. The role of the president is lead based on principle and conviction and conscience.

ZAHN: Senator Kerry started the day in Florida, campaigning in three other battleground states as well and eventually heads to Wisconsin, where he holds an early-morning get-out-the-vote rally.

KERRY: What we need for America and what the world is waiting for, what we need in Iraq, what we need on health care, what we need in our schools, what we need with our economy and jobs, what we need is a fresh start and new credibility for this country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And I'm joined tonight by two very special guests, United States senator from Florida Democrat Bob Graham, who ran for his party's nomination, but dropped out before this year's primaries. Senator Graham is calling it quits after 18 years in the Senate.

Let's welcome him now.

Senator Graham.

(APPLAUSE)

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: Thank you, Paula.

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: Good to see you.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And let me introduce you to now to Ralph Reed, who was the former executive director of the Christian Coalition and now a senior aide the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Gentlemen, welcome. Make yourself comfortable. Glad to have both of you with us.

RALPH REED, SOUTHEAST CHAIRMAN, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Thank you, Paula.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: You're going to have fun over the next several hours. I know you're ready for this. Before we get to some very specific questions to both of you, we've tried to understand what it is about the power of undecided voters in this campaign. And, of course, your vote is going to be more important, I think, than perhaps any other election we've witnessed. And tonight, there are more than 20 of them here. And we hope to perhaps learn more from you right now about why, on the eve of the election, you're still undecided.

Let's introduce you to a few of them now.

Please introduce yourself and explain to us -- please stand up -- why you haven't made up your mind yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, my name is Tammy Otterson (ph).

And the main reason I have not made up my mind yet is because of the negative campaign. I feel that there is a war on terror to the voters, because they keep scaring us to vote one way or the other. So, I would like to look at some clear issues and see a definite plan, instead of what the other person is going to do and scare us with.

ZAHN: So you basically think both campaigns are guilty of that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Both campaigns are definitely guilty.

ZAHN: And what has troubled you throughout this campaign? You can stand up as well, and your name, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Linda Black (ph) right here in Orlando.

And, basically, I think it's the misrepresentation of the truth constantly between both campaigns. And it's really for just political capital. And it's just driving everybody just nuts.

ZAHN: Do you all share that frustration?

AUDIENCE: Yes.

ZAHN: You seem like a pretty sane lot. But I understand how frustrating that can be.

And a final thought about why you think -- please stand up -- the voters are so cynical about this election.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And I have got a mike for you right here. And your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, Bob Jones (ph).

ZAHN: Bob Jones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the voters have just about had it in this election. And I think we need a constitutional amendment. And the amendment will state that, in any political ad, you can only say what you're going to do and you cannot mention your opponent at all. (APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: Now, is that something the two of you would support?

Thank you.

We'll let you wax poetic on that in a little bit. But we're going straight now to some questions from our audience right now.

Please, sir, stand up. And I understand you have a question for both camps here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

My name is Joe Scalimara (ph). And I'm a resident of Kissimmee.

Senator Graham, my question for Senator Kerry would be this. It disturbs me as a Vietnam veteran to see former POWs say that Senator Kerry's comments as a young man gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Today, my question for Senator Kerry is, are we at war or are we not at war? And why should I, as a -- as a veteran, not take his condemnation of the commander-in-chief as aid and comfort to the enemy?

GRAHAM: Joe, I think we are at war, but we're at a different kind of war. This is not like World War II, where there were clear camps, one country vs. another.

This is a war where we are fighting a tribe of tribes, people who we don't understand very well. They don't speak our languages. We don't know each other's cultures. It's going to be a very long and difficult war. I think the criticism that Senator Kerry has made -- and I have made those same criticisms -- is not about the valor of our troops. They've performed exceptionally. The criticisms is about the policies.

I believe that we should have followed the Bush doctrine to stay on the war on terror until we, as the president said, had found them, stopped them and destroyed them. But before we accomplished that objective, we moved over to Iraq and have therefore allowed Osama bin Laden to appear on a tape, just a few days ago, looking pretty alive, pretty healthy, and as if he's ready to plot more attacks against us and against people around the world.

ZAHN: So, Joe, you interpret any attack, then, on President Bush's policies as denigrating the troops?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No. I am talking about aid and comfort to the enemy in a time of war.

You know, when I see a former POW, like Galanti -- Galanti, who comes before the television and before America and says that, because of then John Kerry's statements, that he was tortured in Vietnam, it concerns me that -- his continuing attacks on the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief. Right or wrong, we're there. We're at war. ZAHN: A brief final thought on that and we'll move on to your next question for Ralph.

GRAHAM: So you're talking not the comments about the conduct of the current war, but the conduct of the Vietnam War?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not at all, sir.

I'm talking about the current comments and how we are to perceive them, former veterans, as them -- as the negativity and constant attacks, the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time, how we cannot perceive this as aid and comfort to the enemy.

ZAHN: And do you understand how that could be demoralizing to the families of those soldiers who are now serving in Iraq?

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: You know, we've had presidential elections in the midst of active combat a number of times in our nation's history.

We had -- Abraham Lincoln ran for reelection in 1864 in the middle of the Civil War. Franklin Roosevelt ran for reelection in 1944 in the middle of World War II. The candidates had every reason, every right under both our First Amendment, freedom of speech, and the need to have an honest discussion and debate with the American people, to raise questions about whether the war, the Civil War, the Second World War, or now our war on terror, is being appropriately led, without having that interpreted as any denigration of the troops and their valor and their courage.

ZAHN: So let's move on to your question for Ralph Reed, so we can bring him into the conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could spend a whole hour asking both of you questions, but I'll move on.

ZAHN: You have got some friends here that want to ask some questions as well.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question for President Bush is, first of all, as a combat veteran, I admire how the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq was fought.

But for President Bush to continue to say that he has not made -- him and his staff have not made any mistakes in this war is a turnoff. You know, even president -- even then the General Eisenhower, in talking about the Normandy invasion, said the only reason that that was a success was because the Germans made more mistakes than the Americans.

So -- and President Bush is a man of God. So it just doesn't seem to connect for me that he would persist in his -- his saying that he has not made mistakes, when myself and I believe most of the Americans in this country believe that he has made -- that his staff has made mistakes and that, in wars, there are mistakes made. We understand that.

REED: Sure.

ZAHN: And the closest I guess the president has come to saying that is when he conceded there were some miscalculations made about the strength of the insurgency movement before going to Iraq. But try to take a stab at that. Why has the president not admitted that he has made mistakes either in the run-up to war or in this postwar planning?

REED: Well, what branch of service did you serve in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was in the Air Force.

REED: OK. Well, I'm the son of a veteran.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... veteran.

REED: I'm the son of a Navy veteran who served in the Vietnam War, and I honor the service of all those who served. And I think that really gets to the point of your question.

The president has, Paula, acknowledged, as I think we all would acknowledge, that any time you go to war, war by definition is a series of unanticipated events. I don't care whether you're landing at D-Day at Normandy or whether or not it's the Union forces being routed at Manassas in 1861, when everybody thought the Union would wrap it up in 90 days.

I think that to the extent that things unfolded in Iraq differently than could have been anticipated -- and the president has spoken to this. We moved into Baghdad so quickly and so decimated the military forces of Saddam Hussein's regime, that, rather than fighting for Baghdad -- remember, the concern going in was, there would be street-to-street, block-to-block fighting.

Well, what they did was, they melted into the civilian population. They've now fled to cities like Najaf and Fallujah. And we're going to have to root them out.

ZAHN: But should we have been more proactive? Could there have been a plan that could have snuffed out more of the insurgency movement?

REED: Paula, the liberation of Iraq was one of the most brilliant military operations in the post-World War II period. We moved in a period of a matter of a few weeks to defeat the bloodiest and most dangerous regime in the bloodiest and most dangerous region in the world.

Now, the question is really this. And it gets back to the question you asked Senator Graham or as Senator Kerry's surrogate. Are we at war? Are we not at war? Now, John Kerry said on March 6 of this year, in an interview with "The New York Times," that he did not feel comfortable using the term war to describe this struggle. His senior foreign policy adviser, Richard Holbrooke, said three weeks ago in "The New York Times" magazine that the term war is simply a metaphor, suggesting that we're not really in a military conflict.

ZAHN: All right, but that said...

REED: Folks you can't have somebody as president of the United States that doesn't even understand that this is a war.

ZAHN: But to put Ambassador Holbrooke's remarks in context, there were another three sentences around you that helped you arrive at your conclusion.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: We have got to take a break here. And we'll continue talking more about Iraq.

Thank you, Joe, for your fine questions.

Stay right there. We're going to continue with all of your questions after this short break on the fight against terrorism. Please stay with us. More from our town hall meeting from here in Kissimmee, Florida.

We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRACIE SPOTO, VOTER: I think he did make the right decision by going into Iraq. I think Saddam was a huge threat.

PIKE: I support my troops and I support the missions that they're following. But I don't support the reasons why we went in there.

ARCHIE RICH, VOTER: I think, in the long run, Iraq will be a better country if they're free.

RICK THOMAS, VOTER: I have friends who have been over there. I have family members that's over there. I think that we were misled as a country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: Hi. Welcome back to our town hall meeting here in the battleground state of Florida. And we find ourselves in the Osceola County Courthouse tonight. My guests, again, Democratic Bob Graham of Florida, representing the Kerry/Edwards campaign, and Ralph Reed, representing the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Welcome back

Let's move on to another question now from our audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name's Paul Heidrich (ph). I'm from Kissimmee, Florida.

And this question has to do with homeland security. I have a 9- year-old daughter. And with Osama bin Laden being rendered more or less neutered or impotent over the weekend with his video and not being able to bomb us, but to send us a video, how is it that John Kerry is going to be able to improve on our homeland security? Because Osama has not been able to bomb our nation, hasn't been able to send over airplanes and destroy our national treasures and things of that nature, while our military is doing a great job in Afghanistan, in, you know, hunting them down.

ZAHN: All right, Senator Graham.

GRAHAM: Well, if the question is, how should we be fighting the war on terror, I believe President Bush laid it out very well when he said we should have as our goal not to stop with al Qaeda, but to go to all terrorist groups that have the capacity to operate in two or more countries, to find them, stop them, destroy them. That should be our policy.

In my judgment, we haven't followed the Bush doctrine, first, because we have not completed the task in Afghanistan and Somalia and Yemen, where there are substantial al Qaeda cells. We have not laid a glove on groups that many consider to be even more threatening than al Qaeda, such as Hezbollah in Syria.

The second thing we need to do is, on the defense, we need to protect our country against our greatest vulnerabilities. One area that I've been very interested in, concerned about, seaports. Seaports are a tremendous opportunity for terrorists either to use the seaport itself, which tends to be a large industrial chemical complex, such as the one over in Tampa, or to put something bad on one of those millions of cargo containers that come in every year.

We've done almost nothing to strengthen our seaports against elicit use by terrorists. I think those are the areas in which John Kerry would conduct a more effective, aggressive and winning war against terror.

ZAHN: It's interesting. People have a very different interpretation of what that tape made. And your point is that we haven't suffered another attack. This guy is so neutered, he's sending these pathetic messages to our country, trying to affect our election. Polls basically show it is having no effect.

But the bottom line is that Osama bin Laden hasn't been caught or captured. How does that reflect positively on the Bush campaign?

REED: No, Paula. The bottom line is that we're winning the war on terrorism. That's the bottom line.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Well, is Osama bin Laden a key part of it or not?

REED: Let me take a crack at answering the question.

The fact is, this is a man who, on September 11 , 2001, was responsible for the worst attack on U.S. soil in the history of our country, killing 3,000 innocent civilians. The man who planned that attack, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, has been captured. Three quarters of the known senior leadership of al Qaeda have been captured or killed.

And a man who once sent planes into buildings in the financial capital of the free world is now sitting in a cave sending out videos, homemade videos.

(APPLAUSE)

REED: Now, that's what happened.

ZAHN: Really brief answer, but he still hasn't been captured or killed. What's the defense of that?

REED: Well, but I'm disagreeing with the premise of your question. You're saying the bottom line is, he hasn't been captured or killed yet. I'm saying the bottom line is, keep your eye on the ball, which is winning the war on terror. If you focus on one individual, rather than on winning the war on terrorism, you might get that one person, but then let somebody like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or Al-Zarqawi or somebody else get away.

This president understands that and that's why he's fighting this war on terrorism on offense and not on defense.

(APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: Out of curiosity, a show of hands. So, how many of you really think that Osama bin Laden, capturing and killing him, is a key part of this war on terror? Let me see a show of hands.

Well, about an equal -- equal amount here.

Our next question here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. My name is Ishmael Williams (ph). And I'm a veteran of the war in Iraq.

I want to ask both representatives. With Iran and North Korea both going towards nuclear weapons where they rank on the war on terror.

ZAHN: Ralph, why don't you start with that? REED: Well, I think they're an important part of the president's nonproliferation policy to ensure that we don't allow nuclear weapons to get in the hands of terrorists.

That's why the president put together the six-party talks, including China and Japan and South Korea and Russia, to put pressure on the North Korean regime to end its nuclear program. That's why for example, the administration has worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency, working with countries such as (AUDIO GAP) others to put pressure on Iran.

And, you know, it's kind of interesting to me. The president gets criticized by critics like Senator Kerry, who suggest that he doesn't know how to work diplomatically. But then, when he puts together six parties -- this is a multilateral negotiation of every major country in Asia -- to put pressure on North Korea, he then criticizes him for that.

So the truth is, when the president moves militarily, Kerry criticizes him. And when he moves diplomatically, he criticizes him. And I think it shows a little bit of politics behind the criticism.

ZAHN: Senator Graham, I know you have a lot to say about this, but I'm going to make you wait for two minutes. Do you mind?

GRAHAM: Good. Great.

ZAHN: We're going to take a short commercial break. Hold that thought. I know you have a lot to respond to there. Thank you.

Just a reminder. We're going to continue our town hall meeting later this evening at 11:00 p.m. Eastern time right after "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN."

But right now, we're going to take a short break and we'll be back with more questions. Please stay with us.

(APPLAUSE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CURT SCHILLING, BOSTON RED SOX: On Tuesday, we need you to get out and vote. We need you to get your friends and neighbors out to vote. Tell them you're voting for President Bush and get them on board, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

ZAHN: And welcome back to Kissimmee, Florida.

Our CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup asked likely voters in Florida about the most important problems facing the country; 30 percent said terrorism; 26 percent said the economy; 25 percent said Iraq, and 15 percent said health care.

Let's welcome back our special guests, Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida, and Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, who is now the Southeastern regional chairman of the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Glad I don't have to say that really, really fast.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Before we went to the break, this gentleman posed a question about his fear of nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran.

And the question I know that you want to respond to is Ralph Reed raising John Kerry's criticism. How come he keeps on attacking the president on these six-party talks? Isn't that what John Kerry wants, in addition to bilateral talks, multinational talks?

GRAHAM: Well, I'd like to talk about that, if I could.

But, first, let me talk about the larger issue of what is the status of the war on terror. There are several ways to evaluate that. One is, what are the terrorists doing? There was a period from September the 11th, 2001, until April the 11th, 2002, when there were zero al Qaeda attacks anywhere in the world. That coincided with the time we were putting maximum pressure on Afghanistan.

When we began to withdraw and shift our interest to Iraq, suddenly, terrorist attacks began to increase, thank God, not in the United States, but around the world.

ZAHN: All right, come back to the issue of Iran and North Korea, though.

GRAHAM: Yes.

And another thing that has happened is that we have taken our eyes off other threats. For instance, Iran is a much greater threat in the Middle East than Iraq ever was. It's from Iran that groups like Hezbollah and Hamas are getting their principle funding. Iran really has a serious nuclear program under way.

And North Korea probably has six to eight nuclear weapons already.

I think we've got to say, look, Saddam Hussein was an evil person. Nobody questions that. There are a lot of evil people in the Middle East and Central Asia. We've got to decide, of all those evils, what's our priority?

I think our priority should be -- should be those groups that have the greatest ability to kill Americans. That's my standard.

ZAHN: It still doesn't address the point that Ralph -- it still doesn't address the point Ralph was making. Is there something fundamentally wrong with the approach President Bush is taking with the six party multinational talks?

GRAHAM: Here's the problem.

ZAHN: A brief answer, and then we'll move on.

GRAHAM: Well, the problem is we have essentially turned over to the Chinese to negotiate with the North Koreans. We just show up, read a statement and are quiet. That's exactly what our negotiator has been instructed to do.

At the same time, do you know China is now the second largest country in the world, in terms of purchasing our debt? So we're indebted to China to be negotiating against a real nuclear power. We're indebted to China to buy our burgeoning debt.

ZAHN: OK.

GRAHAM: How do we go to China and say, "You should open up your trade policy so we can sell some Americans goods," and they'll have "made in the USA" on their shelves there just like we have "made in China," here in the United States?

ZAHN: We can hear where the Kerry and where the Bush supporters are here tonight. Just a quick rebuttal to that and the president...

RALPH REED, BUSH/CHENEY CAMPAIGN: I'm not sure the question was really answered.

ZAHN: Briefly.

REED: The point is -- when the president acts to defend national security militarily, he's criticized. And when he assembles the most impressive diplomatic coalition since the Korean War to put pressure on this brutal criminal regime, not just China, by the way, Japan, South Korea and Russia. He's criticized.

So whatever he does, he's criticized. Now call me naive, but I think there might be some politics to it.

ZAHN: Oh, really? All right. We're going to take a short break and come back to more of your questions. Please stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back. More than 100 voters are with us here in Kissimmee, Florida, as we continue our final town hall meeting of the campaign.

Twenty-four members of our audience came into this undecided. Here to try to persuade them, Democratic Senator Bob Graham for the Kerry/Edwards campaign and Ralph Reed representing the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Welcome back. On to our next question. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. My name is Eric Samansky (ph). I grew up across the street from three dear friends who actually died from cystic fibrosis. So my question is in relation to stem cell research.

I'm curious. The president has acknowledged that the most rapid progress will come from the federal funding of embryonic stem cells. He has funded non-embryonic and some embryonic stem cells. But why the delay for those families living with illness? Why the delay?

ZAHN: Ralph?

REED: Well, I -- I just wouldn't agree that that's an accurate characterization of the president's policy. The president is the first president in American history to federally fund embryonic stem cell research.

There was a ban on embryonic stem cell research. It was under President Clinton, not under this president. This president ended that ban but insured that we did so in a way that allowed it to respect life so that we didn't lead inexorably to human cloning so that you go out and create human beings for the sole purpose of harvesting the cells.

One other quick point. Most people don't know this, but it's a fact. The United States has more viable stem cell lines under federally funded research today than any other nation on the face of the earth.

ZAHN: You have the open mic now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Mary. I'm from Kissimmee, originally from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

My voting choices are really moral based. And my question is if there is -- if the research out there is so great, why do we have to use human intervention stem cell research? Why can't we use what is out there already? You know, adult stem cell research, umbilical cord research? Why do we have to intervene by human sources like abortions and things like that?

ZAHN: Senator Graham, we'll let you take a crack at that.

GRAHAM: Well, science has been the history of expanding humans' understanding of nature and being able to make nature respond to our needs. This is the new wave, in terms of medical research. It has enormous potential when things like Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's, diabetes, and other serious diseases.

And there are, sadly to say, going to be hundreds of troops returning, not as this young man has returned, but in a wheelchair from Iran, and -- from Iraq and Afghanistan. They might have some hope through stem cell research, to recover their full use of their limbs.

ZAHN: Do you believe that the president's position is allowing for other countries to take the lead in this kind of research? You mentioned he's the first president who provided federal funding for this kind of research, but some people think it's too restrictive.

GRAHAM: Well, I think there's no question that other countries, such as England have taken advantage of the void that's been created by the restrictions on stem cell research.

And do you know what's going to happen tomorrow in California? Californians, with the support of Governor Schwarzenegger, are going to vote on a $3.5 billion program of the state of California in stem cell research.

ZAHN: All right. You obviously have a problem with that.

REED: Just simply not true that we're allowing other countries to take...

ZAHN: You don't think Britain has been given an opportunity?

REED: No. Because in addition to the $179 million for adult stem cell research and the $25 million for embryonic, the president has also leveraged, by reducing some of the regulations, $200 additional million in private funding that's being plowed into this research. The United States is leading the way.

The only difference between John Kerry and George W. Bush on this, is the president is not going to allow the federal government to clone human beings so that we can harvest their cells.

ZAHN: We're going to have to come back to that in a moment. I want to share with our audience now one of the -- some 16,000 e-mails from viewers who have questions for both campaigns. We're going to get straight to that one right now.

This one comes from Ed Scroggin (ph) from Leesburg, Florida: "In Florida, Mr. Kerry is campaigning for the black vote with a commercial accusing President Bush of being the president who did away with affirmative action. If Mr. Kerry is elected, does he plan to bring back affirmative action as his advertisements imply?"

Senator.

GRAHAM: If I could just respond to the last question. Senator Kerry is as clear as is President Bush in his opposition to human cloning. That is not an issue.

As to the question of stem cell research, it's the question of is America going to be in the lead, as it has been in so many other areas of science, to provide for these breakthroughs that could have enormous benefit to mankind?

In terms of Senator Kerry, he favors programs that are inclusive, that make it possible for all Americans to achieve their full potential.

The fact is, I happen to be a son of the South, and I know this region, we have not yet made the full progress that's necessary to assure that every young man and woman will have that opportunity, and I believe it's a responsibility, and an opportunity for the federal government to provide those kinds of opportunities.

ZAHN: Ralph.

REED: Well, the problem is the courts have ruled, for example, in certain college and other admission programs, that if you have a race-based set aside, that that is unconstitutional.

So what the president favored as governor of Texas and favors now is an affirmative access program that is not simply based on race, but based on the ability to reach out to others who might also have experienced economic deprivation.

And as a result of his policies in Texas, for example, you have the highest percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics attending institutions of higher education, like the University of Texas Law School, in the history of those institutions.

So, I think this kind of politics of fear and smear by the Kerry campaign, suggesting that the president isn't in favor of equal opportunity, is unnecessarily divisive and should end.

ZAHN: We're going to have more of our PRIME TIME POLITICS town meeting after this short break, including questions about the church's role in politics.

But remember, our conversation with voters continues after tonight at 11 p.m. Eastern following "NEWSNIGHT." We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARCHIE RICH, CITRUS GROVE OWNER: I think that the integrity of the voting system in the United States is second to none.

KIM SETZ, SOFTWARE ENGINEER: I'm worried about the accuracy of the vote count and that all the people who are registered to vote will be able to -- allowed access -- free access to the polls.

TRACIE SPOLO, FULL-TIME MOTHER: And in Polk County we have the old-fashioned fill in the bubble. And I think that's the way to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MUSICIAN: I'm here today to stand alongside Senator Kerry and to tell you that the country we carry in our hearts is waiting. And together, we can move America towards our deepest ideals. And besides, we have a sax player in the House; we need a guitar player in the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: We're back in Kissimmee, Florida with Democratic Governor Bob Graham, representing the Kerry campaign, and Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, representing the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Welcome back. It's your turn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. My name is Susan Martin. And my question, I suppose, is for Mr. Reed.

The issue of separation of church and state. Mr. Bush's agenda is clearly evangelical when most of America is not. So my question is where does the line get drawn?

ZAHN: Ralph.

REED: Well, I -- Susan, I just wouldn't agree with that characterization of the president's agenda.

I think if you look at the president, he has a personal faith that gives a sense of meaning and purpose to his life. That gives him a moral compass. It's made him a better husband, a better father, a better public servant.

It's also, by the way, given him freedom to do the right thing, based on what he thinks is right, based on -- rather than based on what he thinks might help him win the next election.

And frankly, I don't care if you're Democrat, Republican, liberal or conservative, I want more people who think like that in public life, not fewer.

ZAHN: But I don't want to read more into your question than what you're saying, but what I am interfering from your question is you believe there is too much religion in politics...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

ZAHN: ... in this Bush race?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do.

ZAHN: Point to something that you find troublesome that would help us understand why you feel the way you do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we -- we discussed the issues of stem cell research when religion is taking the place of science. We -- we haven't discussed the issues of abortion or a woman's right to choose, but the president is, in my opinion, on his way trying to reverse Roe v. Wade.

And these are religious issues and not in the best interests of our country. They're more in the interests of a religious viewpoint.

ZAHN: Ralph. REED: Yes. I just again wouldn't -- wouldn't agree. You don't have to be, as the president so eloquently said in the third and final debate, he said that the greatness of America is that you're equally as good an American, whether you're Jewish, Christian, Muslim or of no faith of all.

Now there are some people who bring a belief on, for example, poverty, or racism, segregation, the remnants of segregation, war and peace, abortion, or the death penalty, based on their religious belief. I think it would be wrong to exclude those voices from the conversation we call democracy.

If you were to say to a Martin Luther King, you can't speak out against a segregation law if it's based on your religious belief, I think that would be wrong. Let every voice speak. Let the American people sort it out, and most of the time we get to the right answer.

ZAHN: Senator the -- Senator Kerry more recently has spoken openly about his faith. In one of the last debates, he talked about being raised in a Catholic household, serving as an altar boy.

Do you think the president's religion has created an agenda that he's trying to push? Or informed that agenda?

GRAHAM: One of the most deeply religious presidents that we had was John Adams, but he also was one of the people who participated in developing the fundamental concept of the separation of church and state.

That does not say that we can't all be religious as we believe our relationship to God to be. What it does say is that the state should not be establishing religion by adopting governmental policies which are then forced on everybody, whether they happen to agree with that religion or not. I think that's a very important principle.

ZAHN: Do you think the Bush administration is doing that?

GRAHAM: Don't we wish that the rest of the world was -- had the tradition of tolerance towards all religions that makes us so proud to be Americans?

ZAHN: I hear what you're saying. I'm curious if you think the president's religious beliefs are seeping into his policies.

GRAHAM: I think this young lady here just gave a list of areas, in which I believe that there's an attempt to use the power of government, not to influences us in terms of what our own personal beliefs would be but to enforce a set of governmental consequences that do not comport with the beliefs of many Americans.

ZAHN: Touching a lot of people in this room here evening. Thanks for the question.

We're going to take a short break. Please stay with us. We'll be back with more of our town hall meeting right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to our town hall meeting here in Kissimmee, Florida, on the eve of the election, with a bunch of undecided voters here this evening.

Another question for our campaign operatives here tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is John Blunsick (ph). I'm an airline pilot and an eight-year Navy veteran. I walked the streets of Europe and South America, and I see pictures of Abu Ghraib, the Statue of Liberty, as they refer to it. They mention hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis without cause.

How can we fight a war on international terrorism without international cooperation from the people of those countries?

And secondly, the polls showed a 49/49 split in this country. How are we going to bring this country back together after this election is over? Which -- how is the candidate, president-elect going to do that?

ZAHN: Why don't we start with you, Ralph?

REED: Those are -- those are two big questions. I would say that, as the president has said, that in order to win the war on terrorism, we can't just fight the military battle.

We clearly have to win the military battle, and it is a war. But it is also a war for hearts and minds. And that's why the president wants to transform the Middle East, and Africa and other regions of the world, so that those countries that have become a breeding ground for terrorism, particularly recruiting young men who are without hope, without opportunity, without a good education, that they can have hope without resorting to that violence.

That's the strategy we need to pursue. That's why we need to have elections in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere, bring in market-based economies and bring hope to them.

In terms of bringing us together after the election, I have to tell you, I really demur from the conventional wisdom that we are a divided nation. I think that...

ZAHN: Are you looking at the same numbers I'm looking at, Ralph?

REED: No. I think -- I think that if you take a poll and you say, which candidate are you for, it's 49-49. But after the last election, we came together. We passed the No Child Left Behind Act. We passed Medicare modernization. No?

ZAHN: Oh, no.

REED: Well, I will tell you, I'm optimistic. I think we're going to be able to come together. I think we're going to be able to act to improve education, healthcare and win the war on terrorism. And I just -- I just -- if you go back and you look at the '60s, the anti-war movement in Vietnam, or leading up to the Civil War, in historic terms we are not nearly as divided as we've been in other times in our history.

ZAHN: Senator Graham, how do you heal the splintered nation? Are you optimistic we'll heal this splintered nation?

GRAHAM: I am optimistic. This time last night I was participating in an interfaith meeting in Miami of all kinds of religious backgrounds. They saw their faith not as a source of division but rather as a source of bringing our communities and our nation and contributing to bringing our world together.

I think this is something that goes beyond what government can do. You can't pass five bills through Congress and heal the country. I think this is something which faith-based people, leaders of our religion can help create an environment of understanding.

ZAHN: All right. Are you as optimistic of both these gentlemen that we can heal some of the rifts created by this campaign? You are not?

One last question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlemen, I have some great concerns about the war in Iraq, and when I think about that war, not the greater war but the war of Iraq, I think of my little boy and what if he were of combat age. I can't think of a reason why my son should go to Iraq and fight and die.

Can you look at me right in the eye and give me a good reason why my son should be sacrificed for Iraq?

I ZAHN: All right. I hate -- I hate to do this, at the risk of being considered the giant tease of television right now, but you're going to have to wait for our next hour of town hall coverage to answer that question. It's a very good question and I know a question that's touched all of you deeply in this audience.

So if everybody stays tuned with us, we will have more of this historic election coverage with Senator Graham and Ralph reed. Please hang around for another hour. It will air at 11.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next with his guests, Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards, and Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Then at 10 p.m. Eastern, it's "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown. And after that, as I said, we will be back with our final PRIME TIME POLITICS town hall meeting of the 2004 campaign right here, with voters in Kissimmee, Florida.

And of course, CNN's complete election day coverage gets under way at 7 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, when the first polls close and continue all night long. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. Thanks for your fine questions, and we will see you all in a couple hours.

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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