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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Analyzing the First Presidential Debate
Aired September 26, 2008 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NICOLE WALLACE, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: It was also revealed tonight, that even Barack Obama can't sell his bad ideas, even Barack Obama can't stand there with all his eloquence and sell ideas that are not in the mainstream of the American political discussion and debate about on our major issues.
It is out of the mainstream to continue to rail against the surge that has brought us to the edge of victory in Iraq. It is out of the mainstream to be unable to list a single item that he would cut in a bipartisan effort to cut spending and it is out of the mainstream to still champion tax increases on the vast majority of the American people.
So I think what you saw tonight is the greatest political communicator of our generation struggling, struggling to illustrate that he was in the same league when it comes to readiness, and judgment and experience with John McCain.
DANA BASH, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENCE: Nicole, thank you very much. I know you're going back to Washington with Senator McCain.
WALLACE: Yes, we're heading out in a few minutes.
BASH: Thanks for your time.
WALLACE: Thank you.
BASH: And Wolf, we want to -- obviously, you heard the line here from Senator McCain, we're hearing that pretty much throughout this spin room here. The other thing that the mantra that we're hearing from Senator McCain's advisors is that they believe that this is an issue that was a debate that was on Senator McCain's turf and something that they don't believe Senator Obama did very well.
Now we've hear different things from the Obama campaign obviously.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": We certainly are Dana thanks very much and thank Nicole as well.
The Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee Joe Biden is standing by, he's joining us live, I suspect. He's got a different assessment of what just happened than Nicole Wallace.
You're smiling. But what do you say, Senator Biden to this charge that Senator McCain leveled against Senator Obama repeatedly that he simply doesn't understand what's going on, he doesn't have the experience to deal with what's going on and he's afraid to admit that he was wrong about the surge in Iraq?
SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) DELAWARE VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Hey, look, who was right and who was wrong? John McCain was dead wrong on the war, John McCain's been dead wrong in Afghanistan, John McCain's been dead wrong in his judgment supporting Bush's shredding national regulations to control Wall Street. And now John McCain says, talk about I heard the young woman, the lady behind me say that, you know, this was all about mainstream.
Well, the mainstream wants to end the war in Iraq, let the Iraqis spend their $79 billion, not just have John continue to spend $10 billion a month.
And so Wolf, on every single area, it seemed to me that John was mired in the past as he usually is. I'll give you one example, John tried to lecture Barack that the surge was a strategic idea. John, listen to me, our own commander said it was a tactic in order to reach a strategic objective. The strategic objective was increase force to give breathing room for the strategic political settlement.
John doesn't even know the difference between strategy and tactic and he's trying to lecture Barack. He's been dead wrong on these issues; he's tethered to a failed policy that got us in this position.
And think about it. The surge is over. What's John's answer, what does he do next? How do we leave Iraq and leave it stable? Barack has laid out exactly how to do that.
And last point is John talks about how to protect America. He hasn't voted for the 9/11 commission recommendations, John hasn't voter for the veterans. The DAV rates him at 20 percent, disabled veterans of America.
So look, this was a -- I think John was on his strongest turf today and he lost and I think it's going to be fatal.
BLITZER: Next Thursday, Senator Biden, I'm sure you're aware you will have your own debate against Sarah Palin --
BIDEN: I will.
BLITZER: At Washington University in St. Louis. What did you learn tonight about this first debate that might help you going forward?
BIDEN: Well, I hope I can be as good as Barack Obama was and I hope that Sarah Palin defends the same position John McCain does. That's what I learned.
Now, we may see a different thing. I have great respect for the -- what I hear and watched some of the debating skills of Governor Palin. I think it's going to be a really tough debate.
But I think this is all about where we are. Are we talking about past or the future, and what are you going to do? What's the future? What are you going to do economically and politically and what are you going to do relative to the war. And that's what I'm going to try to talk about and we'll see and let the voters make the judgment. I just hope I do as well as Barack did.
BLITZER: We'll of course be here Thursday watching that 90-minute debate. One final question, Senator Biden, before I let you go I know we have only a limited window.
What do you say to what Nicole Wallace and other McCain supporters say that John McCain came up with a bold decisive piece of action; he's going to have a spending freeze with the exception of national security or veterans or some of the entitlements if in fact he is elected president.
He says that Barack Obama really didn't come up with anything bold or decisive that given the enormity of this economic crisis we're facing right now.
BIDEN: I didn't hear him when he said he'd consider that. What I heard was nobody knows what's going to happen in terms of this bailout. No one knows how much it's going to cut into, if it cuts into the ability of the next president to be able to move his programs.
What I did hear Barack Obama say, was in order to get the economy moving again, we've got to deal with reinstating the middle class so they can have money to spend.
I watched John McCain talk about how he's going to give $300 billion more to corporate America as well as the very wealthy. And Barack Obama says, look, give it to the people who need it, the people who in fact are in the middle class, that's going to move the economy.
I didn't hear anything about the future from John. All I heard from John tonight was the past and quite frankly, his judgments in the past being tethered to the policies of Bush economically and in foreign policy I think had been an abject failure. As the old Ronald Reagan said, if you like the last eight years, then John McCain showed you, you should stick with him.
BLITZER: Yes, you're right about that freeze, he said he would consider a freeze, he didn't say he would in fact go forward with a freeze.
A little bit of preview of what we might be hearing from you next Thursday night. Senator Joe Biden thanks very much for joining us.
BIDEN: Thanks an awful lot Wolf. Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: All right Senator Joe Biden the Senator from Delaware, the Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee.
Anderson, I would love Sarah Palin to be joining us tonight and try to get a little preview of what she has to say. But I don't think she's joining us, but it would be nice.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC360": Don't hold your breath on that one.
Let's go from spin from both the spin room and spin from both sides to actually some facts. And one of the things we want to do over this next hour in this post-debate version of "360" is look at some of the statements that were made and check them against the facts.
One of the points of contention between these two men was the issue of diplomacy and the issue of whether or not Barack Obama said he would meet directly with foreign leaders in the first year of his office.
It all references back to a statement he gave during the first YouTube debate which was back in July 23rd, 2007. It seems like ten years ago, not just one year ago, but let's listen to what Barack Obama said during this YouTube Democratic debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Let's go to another YouTube video.
STEPHEN SORTA: In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?
COOPER: I will also point out that Stephen is in the crowd tonight. Senator Obama?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I would. And the reason is this. That the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration is ridiculous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: John King, what about that? Ever since he has made that statement, which he was attacked for by Republicans and even by Hillary Clinton camp back then because he was running against her.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: And by Joe Biden, his vice- presidential running mate.
COOPER: And Joe Biden, exactly, they've been trying to sort of clean it up.
KING: In that statement I would. There's no nuance in that statement. The question was, would you meet with these rogue leaders in the view of the United States government the current administration would you meet with them in your first year in office without precondition in Washington or anywhere else and his answer was two words, I would.
That's a short declarative answer, you don't get them much in debates, so we as reporters appreciate them when we get them. But that is out of bounds in the foreign policy community. And since then, he did not say, I would if the proper preparations were made which is what he said tonight.
But I would be willing to do that, if you had first the preparations and if you knew there was probably something productive or potentially something productive come to the meeting. He was hammered for that answer by Hillary Clinton. He was criticized by Joe Biden. McCain has criticized him from the beginning of his campaign.
He has tried to clean it up and give a more nuanced position since, which is a much more acceptable position in the foreign policy community. And this is a critical disagreement between these two men in terms of their philosophies. That's one thing we did see tonight --
COOPER: You say he started to clean it up, has he changed his answer?
KING: His answer, you heard it tonight, that he thinks that a president should keep that option, that a president should never rule out meeting face to face with somebody even if you disagree with them; even you have profound differences with them. But you heard him say over and over again tonight, when McCain was trying to pin him on this question that, of course you would have preparations before hand, of course there will be lower level meetings before hand. You would only do it if it were smart.
And that's -- it's a still a difference answer from John McCain but it's a much more nuanced answer about how you get to the table. That first answer, even his own staff conceded at that point in time, didn't have that nuance and that was a mistake.
COOPER: And the conversation tonight between McCain and Obama then evolved into a question about what Henry Kissinger's position was; Henry Kissinger a supporter of John McCain. Christiane, you recently had an opportunity to talk to him.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was referring directly to a forum of five former Secretaries of State that we hosted along with Frank Sesno on CNN a weekend ago, in which five former Secretary of State spanning Republican and Democratic administrations basically said that the next U.S. president, their best advice to the next U.S. president, would be to get his administration to start direct negotiations with Iran without preconditions.
Now, they did set about the level and nobody suggested of course and nobody does that a president would do that first and as you know the Obama campaign has walked that back.
But it is a philosophical difference between a McCain and an Obama. If there was a McCain administration there would be the current continuation according to what he says, of isolation sanctions and all sticks and no carrots.
If there would an Obama administration, there would be negotiations. And it's entered the mainstream now. This is what distinguished, long term, long serving, foreign service personnel as people are saying.
COOPER: We have part of the sound from that CNN Forum. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiations is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East and our notion of nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it, and therefore, I actually prefer doing it at the Secretary of State level, so that we are dealing with authentic --
FRANK SESNO, CNN: You put it at a very high level right out of the box?
KISSINGER: Initially, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: What's the difference, David Gergen or Christiane is really, at what level?
AMANPOUR: Well, right. The point is that these Secretaries of State have come to the conclusion that the silent treatment has not worked, that isolation on its own without incentives has not worked, and that there needs to be a different relationship between the United States and Iran who have had no relations for the last 30 years but where there is so much that needs be resolved.
And one of the other things that Obama said tonight was that in fact, the war in Iraq has emboldened Iran, has really given Iran such a huge amount of sway in that part of the world, by getting rid of Saddam Hussein, by backing the majority Shiites in Iraq and by becoming a real power in that area.
On the sort of cosmetic level, I was quite -- I sort of giggled a little bit when I saw John McCain stumble over Ahmadinejad's name.
COOPER: Is that really fair though, I mean, people make mistakes all the time.
AMANPOUR: Is it fair for anybody? Why not, I mean if I stumble, it would be fair comment. But the point of the matter is that there is a distinct difference. And that was one of the biggest difference that they had in this foreign policy debate.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT BAGHDAD: And Tehran will be surprised to learn that there are late forces of the Republican Guards as opposed to the Revolutionary Guard. And both candidates, first Senator McCain and then Senator Obama followed calling them the Republican Guards. Know thy enemy obviously doesn't apply in the presidential debate.
KING: Somebody is watching our discussion in the McCain campaign just released a statement by none other than Henry Kissinger, who says, quote, "Senator McCain is right I would not recommend the next president of the United States engage in talks with Iran at the presidential level. My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Senator John McCain. We do not agree on everything but we do agree that any negotiations with Iran must be geared to reality."
So this is a post debate. Things move quickly.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I want to go back to what Christiane is saying because I think it's really fundamental.
There is a major difference that emerged tonight across a variety of issues, in John McCain's approach to international affairs and Barack Obama's.
Barack Obama stresses -- puts heavier stress on diplomacy, working with other nations, trying to go a different way from what George Bush has gone. And John McCain has a much tougher, more muscular view; it's much closer to the neoconservative position. He has a number of neoconservatives around him, it's on Iran, it's on Russia, it's on Iraq and all of these, he wants to bring a very muscular view.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm sorry; it's very similar to President Bush's first term view. It's not President Bush's second term view when he has been engaging with North Korea and Iran.
AMANPOUR: There are still conditions, Jeffrey. President Bush does not negotiate with Iran without preconditions. There are still conditions. And the conditions are "stop your uranium enrichment." There are no negotiations on the nuclear issue right now.
TOOBIN: But McCain's position is much more like the first conditions.
COOPER: We're going to have a lot more to talk about ahead. Our coverage continues on "AC360."
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN "Election Center." we're continuing our coverage of the reaction to this first presidential debate here in the United States.
We've been getting some emails from viewers out there wondering why we spent time interviewing Joe Biden the Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee and not Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice-Presidential Nominee.
We would love to have interviewed -- we still have to interview Sarah Palin and unfortunately we asked and we didn't get that interview. We did speak to Nicole Wallace, a senior advisor to John McCain. We're hoping that Sarah Palin will go join us at some point down the road.
Candy Crowley is joining us right now from Oxford, Mississippi, the University of Mississippi where this debate occurred. It's pretty empty right now behind you. They put a lot of work into it. It's now over with.
Candy, give us your sense of what happened. You've been covering the Obama campaign now for quite a while.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was almost as though, I think, we were watching two different debates. I was totally struck by the fact that we have spent this entire week talking about how urgent it is that something get done on Capitol Hill, that the financial institutions, the underpinning of the United States of America's economy was at stake.
And, boy, they started that and they were both so flat, it was talking about tax cuts, and I thought they just really both started out pretty slowly. Once we got into the foreign policy debate, I think that they were both a little more animated.
Did I hear anything new from Barack Obama? No.
Did I hear anything new from John McCain? No.
But it is always instructive to have the two of them together. Watch the interaction. And clearly, if you have not been paying as close attention as most of us have been paying now for almost two years, you learn a lot of things.
There are stark differences between these candidates on how they feel about foreign policy and various issues within foreign policy as well as the economy and there are stylistic differences and I think you saw all of that tonight.
BLITZER: We certainly did. And there'll be two other opportunities for those still undecided Americans to make up their minds; two more presidential debates and next Thursday in St. Louise, Missouri, a vice-presidential debate as well.
Candy, we're going to getting back to you.
I want to walk over to Donna Brazile and Leslie Sanchez, and Alex Castellanos and Paul Begala.
Donna, we haven't heard from you yet, give us your reaction to what you heard and saw tonight.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, John McCain needed a game changer. And he didn't get that Wolf. He scored points by showing up because he was down so low before coming into the debate.
But Senator Obama displayed not just seasoned judgment but also I thought that he was confident, he understood the economy, he tied it to international issues, he was very comfortable with the subject matter, especially foreign policy. So overall, I think Senator Obama did very well tonight.
BLITZER: And no major blunders from either of these candidates? Major, both of them slipped up a little bit but there are no major blunders?
BRAZILE: So far, one YouTube moment, and that's when as Paul pointed out earlier, when Senator Obama told Senator McCain that he was wrong, when he tied him to again, George Bush foreign policy and economic policy. That clearly scored, that's the only YouTube moment so far.
BLITZER: Leslie, what do you think?
LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think a lot of people would like to write off to Senator McCain as being gone. And out of this until you got the double digit lead and I think it's just a crapshoot, either way. And just to put it in perspective I think look at the fact 90 percent of people already made up their mind coming into tonight's debates.
What it did is it reinforced your ideas, it increased intensity and neither of them exactly right, made any major blunders. But I do think Barack Obama was somewhat on the defensive. And I disagree with my colleague in terms of disrespect; he called Senator McCain John constantly.
I way back to as far as 1972 you can't see other references as people calling their counterpart by their first name. He didn't call him Barry for example.
And also these issues of spending taxes, unconditional meetings, it was a lot of back and forth; they held their own but I do think there was a sense of him being professorial.
BLITZER: So when Senator McCain referred to Barack Obama he would called him Senator Obama and when Senator Obama referred to John McCain he called him John do you think was a -- it was that slight is that what you're suggesting?
SANCHEZ: I think to some degree it was. When you have an issue of characterization and people say you're an elitist, and this professor, and you use those examples, it plays into that.
BRAZILE: Leslie, I heard that, too, but he was saying, John, he was trying to correct the record because there were so many instances, with Senator McCain was clearly misstating the facts. And I think Senator Obama became frustrated and say, John, he was trying to correct the information, there was no slight there.
BLITZER: Alex when we were watching the scorecard that was going on along the side, if you had high definition TV, and I believe, you can correct me if I am wrong; you actually gave Barack Obama more points for taking advantage of opportunities than John McCain.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think Barack Obama did a couple of interesting things tonight. He said George Bush a lot. He scored with a lot of jabs tonight; he had a lot of little shots. But this was the debate that the smaller it gets, the more details it is, the less good it is for Barack Obama.
Barack Obama is the big picture guy. He did better really when he talked about big things, the vision in America and energy and independence, things like that. I thought McCain was successful, even though Barack Obama scored a lot, I think a few more points. McCain dragged kind of dragged him down into the foreign policy debate and worked him over, I thought pretty good.
It looked almost a little bit like at times so Obama was looking for the flash cards and he'd crammed for the exam and McCain obviously didn't have to do that, I've been to Waziristan.
BLITZER: But what about the argument Barack Obama made, yes, well, maybe the surge has worked, but the fundamental decision to go into Iraq against Saddam Hussein back in March of 2003, I thought that was a big mistake, and you thought that was the right thing to do, so your judgment is questioned about deploying U.S. troops in a war.
CASTELLANOS: For those people who agree with Obama about that, he certainly scored some points there. But overall, the beginning of this debate when it was on the economy was tough for both candidates. As soon as it moved to foreign policy, I thought McCain helped himself, displayed much more command and experience. He'd lived it as where the other guy have read about it in a book.
I think what's going to happen, is this over the next two days, McCain got some momentum out of this and we're going to see him move probably a couple points in the polls.
BLITZER: Well, let's ask Paul Begala, do you agree with that?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No. Each campaign has a negative frame for the other guy, right? The McCain campaign wants you to think that Obama is risky and McCain made the case as strongly as he could at the end, right? I'm experienced, I'm strong and essentially by implications.
I don't think anybody looked at Barack Obama tonight, and saw a guy who looked risky. He was not poor Sarah Palin falling down in front of Katie Couric, right? He looked to me, strong, steady, confident, and on the Iraq war and he grabbed McCain by the lapels and thrashed him.
Now, the Obama campaign wants you to think that John McCain has served yesterday's man; that this is the future versus the past. There were a couple of moments -- there were no senior moments. He didn't stumble or anything but there was moments where he did look like he was way too rooted in the past.
He used to talk about Alexander the Great, I think he knew Alexander the Great, citing Henry Kissinger who is the Secretary of State I mean for Millard Philmore in the 19th century.
McCain just seem really backwardly looking I think in this debate and that I score for Barack, it's future versus the past, I think we saw who was in the future or who is in the past.
BLITZER: All right, guys, standby, Paul has got some views and he's letting us know where he stands. All right, we're taking a quick break.
We're going out to the Heartland. Our viewers have been watching and we've been watching them and you've been seeing some of what they have been seeing.
But we're going to go out there and Soledad O'Brien is in Columbus, Ohio, with a focus group.
Much more of our coverage coming up right here after this.
COOPER: And welcome back to this post-debate edition of "360." You're looking at a live picture there of the CNN express. I want to show you we've just conducted a telephone poll at the CNN opinion research poll 524 adult Americans surveyed by the telephone.
The first question: who did the best job in the debate; Obama, 51 percent, John McCain, 38 percent. The next question was, who would better handle Iraq, the answer to that Obama 52 percent to John McCain's 47 percent. And then the third question, who would better handle the economy, 58 percent for Obama, 37 percent of respondents said John McCain.
What do you make of that, John King?
KING: Well, one thing, looking at our poll, is that the pollsters are saying that the audience watching has a higher percentage of Democrats in the country as a whole. It would be interesting if we watch other organizations polls to see if more Democrats tuned into the debate and what are the reasons for that.
But certainly if you have these headlines tomorrow that say the polls say Obama won that certainly helps Barack Obama especially in a debate -- the first third of it was not about foreign policy it was about the economic crisis -- but in which if people were thinking at home this is the debate about foreign policy that's supposed to be John McCain's strong and so they maybe they didn't watch for whatever reasons, had soccer practice with the kids, and have other things going on they've see in the newspapers, Obama won, that will help Obama without a doubt.
COOPER: So is that just a matter where expectations versus the reality do actually influence in the people see it?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think so. I think the McCain campaign tried to really manage expectations about their fellow and so did the Obama campaign and clearly he was not supposed to be the expert on foreign policy.
But one thing I think he did really well on the economy was the line that John McCain uses all the time is that Barack Obama will raise your taxes and I won't. He took it right to McCain on the tax issue and said to people out there, if you earn over under $250,000 a year, nothing will happen to your taxes or you'll get a tax cut. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: What's significant, I think, about these polls is there tends to be a multiplier effect about these debates. Initially, people aren't quite sure. But once one side is established as a winner, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC360": I remember reading after, I think I read on Amy Sullivan's (ph) Website after Ross Perot's debate the first time around, a small percentage said he had done well and he had won. By the next day, they had told friends and it was a huge much larger percentage that he had won.
TOOBIN: And that happened in 2000, with Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and it's been true with most of these debates. It is very important, I think, that the first objective analysis, not from us but from actual polls, I think it's consistent across the network, all show Obama winning.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR, "ELECTION CENTER": You look at this going forward, and to follow up on Gloria's point, Alex mentioned this, too. One of the most effective I thought lines was earlier in the evening when they were talking about the economy, this is their strategy from here on out for Obama, connecting McCain at every opportunity to George W. Bush in the last eight years.
McCain was excellent on foreign policy tonight clearly.
When are we going to talk about foreign policy again between now and the election night if at all? We go back to the economy immediately.
COOPER: It feels strange, frankly, that they even talked about it tonight after two weeks of nothing but economic issues.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And yet when people do pull the curtain behind them, yes, the election is fundamentally about the economy, but you're still making a decision that time when there are tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan.
BROWN: But given that and all and given banks are failing --
KING: People still know the President of the United States is commander-in-chief. And so are they going to ask what was the answer on Waziristan or what was the answer about the Pakistani president? No. Are they going to say can this person be commander in chief? Because that's as big a judgment as how to deal with the financial crisis.
And what I found most striking is, remember 1992, Bill Clinton looked at George H.W. Bush and said I will go after the dictators and the butchers in Beijing. They had a foreign that wasn't all that much different.
That happens a lot in campaigns. The candidates draw these big contrasts in foreign and the establishment sort of runs foreign policy. In this campaign, there actually are differences; significant differences between these two men that would actually become the policy differences depending on who wins.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And John, you have something like 200,000 sons and daughters of America in combat situations right now, 200,000 sweating, bleeding, dying and then their families. Sure, you know, you're right, the economy is at the forefront, but you can't take --
KING: If you look at the universe of undecided voters, and who they are; they're Democrats and independents mostly. If you look at that universe, if those people thought today that Barack Obama was ready to be commander-in-chief, this election would have -- he would have a much bigger lead in the election.
The challenge for him in the debates is getting over that threshold. If he can do that, there's no reason he won't be the next president.
COOPER: I want David and Christiane to weigh in then we're going to go into break.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm incredibly concerned; I have traveled around this country in many states including so-called swing states giving speeches and things like that. Americans are incredibly concerned and desperately hope that their next president will lift America's reputation up again, will make America's connections with the rest of the world absolutely strong and admirable again. They're very, very concerned how desperately low America's standing has sunk in the world. Very concerned.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I can't emphasize enough how important I think these numbers are because this is a pivotal night for John McCain. He needed to take this night.
If these polls and policy from other news organizations are consistent with this as Jeffrey said, that's major deal because this is his home turf. And it is so important because Barack Obama is in effect the challenger here. Barack Obama's the effective challenger and he's a younger man.
The issue is can the younger man hold his own in the same platform with the older guy with more experience? That's what John Kennedy did in 1960. It was the debate that drove the election and elected him because he held his own in that first debate.
COOPER: Our coverage continues. We're going to take a short break; a lot more to talk about. We'll be right back.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM:" The reaction is continuing to come in from this first presidential debate here in the United States. Soledad O'Brien was watching and listening together with a focus group in the Heartland in Columbus, Ohio. They were watching their meters going down and up.
Explain to our viewers what was going on where you were and how these folks reacted.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I thought it was pretty fascinating to watch second by second, I mean, literally you could see a phrase that a candidate would say and see how it immediately resonated with the 32 people who are in this room roughly broken down evenly between registered Independents, registered Democrats and registered Republicans.
This was not a game changer. At the end, we were just doing a debrief a moment ago; they all said they felt frustrated. They felt like they didn't get their questions answered, that the candidates dodged, no one was willing to really stand up and speak out to the degree in which the economy is in dire shape and kind of just spell out the problems and some real solutions.
This is a kind of frustrated group tonight. A couple of things that I want to talk about though, few home runs; very rarely do we see the numbers get into the 80 percent, almost never, 100 percent, certainly never, so it wasn't a game changing kind of debate.
But when they talked about policy, when that was the focus, when they talked about their records; the numbers down immediately. The people here did not want to hear about a record that they felt they were pretty familiar with.
One of the other things that we saw was when the candidates got angry at each other or even just angry, like John McCain getting a little testy in the part I'm going to show you, the respondents, it was the first time we saw everybody, whether registered Democrat, Independent or Republican dialed down, take a look at part of his bite.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm not going to set the White House visitors' schedule before I'm President of the United States. I don't even have a seal yet.
Dr. Kissinger did not say that he would approve of face to face meetings between the President of the United States and Ahmadinejad. He did not say that. He said there could be secretary level and lower level meetings. I've always encouraged them.
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O'BRIEN: You can see him trending down there and soon it will fall off the cliff where everybody is in the 40 number mark right there, 40 percent.
We also noticed that whenever NATO and Russia were mentioned, people really wanted to hear more. Here's Senator Obama talking a little bit about foreign policy.
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SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We have to have a president who is clear that you don't deal with Russia based on staring into his eyes and seeing his soul, you deal with Russia, based on what are the national security interests of the United States of America. And we have to recognize the way they've been behaving lately demands a sharp response from the international community and our allies.
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O'BRIEN: The green line under Senator Obama was independents. There he was actually rating higher with Independents than with Democrats. We did notice that where they did connect was talking about energy, that was a big deal, automatic dial-up for either candidate whenever they mentioned energy and looking forward.
Barack Obama actually got more high marks from Independents, Democrats and Republicans across the board. McCain, strong Republican response but really not from Democrats or Independents very often.
What got laughs was frankly watching Jim Lehrer with a fair amount of frustration trying to get the candidates to answer the question about the tough decisions that they would make given this giant bailout that is looming.
Six people here of the 32 who are here tonight said that they're going to walk out the door decided because people here tonight had said they were undecided. They hadn't made up their minds.
Nathan Davis is one of them. Nathan, first of all, are you a registered what?
NATHAN DAVIS, REPUBLICAN VOTER: I'm a registered Republican.
O'BRIEN: You're a registered Republican and so walk out the door now deciding what?
DAVIS: I'm deciding that I'm voting for John McCain.
O'BRIEN: So you hear he's made up his decision.
Interesting to see though when you take a look at the people polled here, who won the debate? 61 percent say they thought Obama and 39 percent say they thought it was McCain.
And we also asked the question regardless of who you're voting, who do you think is going to win the election, 64 percent said Obama, 36 percent said McCain.
Again, that's a look in this room. How can we extrapolate it outside these walls? It's unclear yet, but it's certainly interesting to see. Almost everybody said they want to watch the next debate, they didn't hear enough. They're not ready to make a decision -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, fascinating material. We loved watching those lines go up and down second by second as you pointed out. Soledad, please thank those 32 voters in Ohio, a key battleground state.
O'BRIEN: I will pass it along. BLITZER: Roland Martin was watching with another group of influential Americans; the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
Roland, it's empty now, it was packed just a little while ago. I take it most of the people there supported Barack Obama. But tell us how they were reacting to what was going on.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It was certainly this was definitely a pro-Obama crowd. The one line they really liked it when John McCain talked about his bracelet, then when Obama came back and said, John, I have a bracelet, too. This crowd really erupted. You really hit the groans when McCain came up with the POW story. It was pretty much like, ok, not again.
I will jump forward then come back a bit. I talked to a group of about eight or ten people afterwards, just regular folks, a lot of young voters as well. I said did you come away from this debate satisfied?
They clearly said, no. They said, you know what, the foreign policy stuff, that's nice and wonderful. But I'm sorry. I want to know about education, I want to know about health care. I want to know about the economy, I want to know about bailouts. And they said that should have taken center stage beyond anything else.
Sure, foreign policy stuff is important.
This crowd got really bored when they kept going on and on and on about pre-conditions and Iran and who you sit down and talk with. They crowd wanted to say, let's move on.
A couple things, Wolf, jumps out and I think that has to be said. First and foremost, McCain did a very effective job in using personal stories. Obama -- that is a weakness and he is going to have to do better in terms of using personal stories to connect with people so they can understand and feel him.
Also this. John McCain, how dare you come and give a debate and you don't even say the word middle class? Not only that, when Jim Lehrer was talking about the issues, McCain kept saying tax cuts, spending earmarks but he never gave me an impression as a voter that he was talking about pocketbook issues.
You can say Main Street but you have to convey Main Street. If I'm a McCain advisor, I'm going to say, hey guy, the other guy nailed you on tax cuts for the rich on supporting those people. You had better talk to real people on the ground if you want to give an effective argument when it comes to the economy.
BLITZER: Roland, thanks very much. Roland Martin is in Washington.
Ted Rowland is in Las Vegas. You were watching with Republicans, supporters of John McCain. I assume they thought John McCain just did fine.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. No surprise there. Everybody here was very enthusiastic about John McCain, and specifically they thought that McCain was at ease throughout this debate. They thought that his experience showed through in talking about not only his experience with the economy, but also talking about foreign leaders and what he would do in terms of Iraq and the rest of it.
They had this sense, a lot of them said privately, they weren't quite sure what to expect coming in here. They thought that maybe McCain could get beat up. But they thought he had control of the debate from start to finish; obviously, a partisan crowd.
But I asked them what do you think an independent might have thought of this debate? They all walked away thinking, you know what, if I was undecided, I would look at McCain as a leader, not a guy who is reading about stuff as the panel has talked about but had lived these things.
They think this debate will go a long way trying to sway the Independents. Nevada is one of those states; they're going to need the base. Both sides are going to need independents because that's what's going to win it.
Very interesting, Republicans here think this was a big win and a lot privately weren't sure what to expect.
BLITZER: People are struggling in Nevada, especially homeowners in Nevada. It's a serious problem all over the country, in fact.
Ted thanks very much. Thank the folks for the hospitality there from all of us as well.
Anderson, you can see there's a lot of different reactions; not surprisingly. But these poll numbers are pretty interesting that shows that Barack Obama more than held his own. In fact, a lot of these people think he did better.
COOPER: It will be interesting to see in the next day or two, as the conversation and as focus turns back to Washington and bailout negotiations which are taking place right now, whether this has really any lasting impact or if it suddenly just disappears and 24 hours from now it just seems like it never happened at all.
TOOBIN: President Bush and the administration has said this is an absolute priority, that this has to be done, it's an emergency. But the two candidates didn't seem all that urgent about it.
COOPER: It's a point Candy Crowley made earlier that given all we've been showing on our programs for the last week and especially the last couple of day, for the first 40 minutes, though they talked about the economy, there was not a sense of the world has changed.
GERGEN: But Anderson, it may not -- five days from now, it may not seem like much happened tonight.
From John McCain's point of view, he had to make something happen tonight because the election started drifting toward Barack Obama. He needed to find a way tonight to reverse the momentum. I don't think he did that.
BORGER: I think that Obama tied John McCain to George W. Bush numerous times on the economy. When they go back to Washington now, this is President Bush's bailout plan. If John McCain supports it or is with Bush, he's going to be tied to Bush again.
Yes, Obama's going to have to support it, too, but he's going to say, this is Bush's plan and I'm bailing out a bad economic management.
GERGEN: Do you think McCain wants to oppose it?
BORGER: I thought McCain might oppose it until tonight, when he actually answered that question. It seemed like he was likely to.
BROWN: He said he was going to support it.
BORGER: Whatever it ended up being.
KING: He also made a very important point about the House Republicans?
TOOBIN: Which was?
KING: Which was that he, John McCain, for all the criticism he's received in Washington and I'll leave it to others to decide whether it's right or wrong. He slowed the process down.
The more you slow it down, the less likely the plan you get at the end is similar to the plan George W. Bush proposed at the beginning. Everyone now is trying to change the Bush plan so it will be less George Bush's plan tomorrow or Monday than it was three days ago.
BROWN: Who's going to do it that way? How many voters are going to see this is not entirely George Bush's plan?
KING: That's a legitimate question. But there is a -- they were very both cautious tonight because they don't know how this is going to turn out. Now you could make argument they're supposed to be the next President of the United States, take a stand, tell us what you want.
But both of them have issues and questions within their own caucus because remember, they want to be the next President of the United States. I was just out in Montana and the phones are ringing off the hook.
There are 435 members of the House and one-third of the United States Senate; they are up in November 4th, too. And they're not -- Not that they don't want Barack Obama to win or John McCain to win if they're Democrat or Republican, but guess what they're worrying about first? If they're on the ballot in November 4, they're worried about them before they worry about the guys running for president.
COOPER: I was going to bring in Candy Crowley, who's joining us from the debate hall. Candy, both men were asked by Jim Lehrer about what impact the financial crisis is going to have on their abilities to implement a lot of the programs. They say -- and neither really would go very far down that road.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No or at all. I mean, McCain sort of suggested well, maybe he'd look at a spending freeze, which is always -- and then gave all the spending he would not freeze within that. It's just not in a campaign a question the candidates are going to ask.
You don't say, what are you going to cut because that's not what candidates want to do. Because every time you cut something, you are cutting funds from somebody out there. They're just not apt to answer that kind of question, even though they're edging closer to it.
I have to tell that on the campaign trail, Obama has been a little more forthcoming about, yes, there may be things I have to cut back. He hasn't said specifically but that's just not something that candidates do when they're campaigning, talk about the programs they're going to get rid of.
COOPER: John McCain claimed that he was suspending his campaign several days ago. It's a debatable point how much of his campaign -- was his campaign, John, ever suspended?
KING: He did pull his ads down. He did pull his ads down for about 72 hours, I believe. He didn't suspend his campaign. He moved his campaign.
Instead of doing rallies in Pennsylvania or Ohio, or anywhere else, he moved to Capitol Hill because he thought he needed to get involved in this. So he did not suspend his campaign. He just decided that it was more important for him politically or policy reasons or a little bit of both to be in Washington.
Can I jump in with a one quick point? This is interesting. Men scored it for John McCain 46 percent to 43 percent. Women scored it for Barack Obama 59 percent to 31 percent; A huge gender gap there.
This one jumps out at me though as more significant because -- this one jumps out at me as more significant because of the very question you just asked; among voters 50 and older; 48 percent for Obama, 40 percent for McCain. John McCain had doing well among older voters. They are the ones most stressed about this. The ones closest to retirement are the ones looking at their 401(k)s and looking at Wall Street and saying I spent 20 years of my life building a nest egg. What is going on in the world?
COOPER: Because all these financial analysts are saying well, look if you're young and you have a long time don't worry, this is just a bump in the road. But if you have a year or two --
TOOBIN: It is the end of the road.
KING: 55 and older are the most reliable voters; 55 and older.
BORGER: Women are undecided voters. Women generally decide late and they're a large chunk of the undecided voters so that's very interesting. TOOBIN: Well, they are the core of the Democratic constituency.
BORGER: Right. But they're late deciders.
GERGEN: The other thing that came out of this poll was how people though on Iraq, they were much -- people give the evaluation they are much closer together.
I think Barack Obama got a real break tonight that the first half hour was about the economy. I think it implodes (ph) everything that happened in terms of voters' perceptions of what they saw because they're somewhat sympathetic to him than they are to McCain on the economic issues and he was crisper on that than he was, I thought.
COOPER: But tomorrow when both men go back on the campaign trail, I assume they both -- does John McCain go back to Washington or does he go back in the campaign trail?
They both go back to Washington?
Do they hold rallies? How does thing play out over the next couple of days? Do we even know?
KING: McCain is on a Sunday talk show on what we say, another network. That's all I will have to say. And otherwise going to get back involved in the negotiations or I think from more of a distance but follow the negotiations on the financial crisis. Both of them want to have this resolved. I think both of them realize they have a stake in its outcome.
We'll be back to the campaign rallies I would assume by Monday or Tuesday. Most of the direction now seems to suggest they would have a deal by the beginning of the week; if not over the weekend, by Monday or Tuesday. And remember we have the vice presidential debate.
COOPER: Do we know honestly what his role was in the negotiation? When he went back to Washington?
BORGER: Dana Bash would be able to tell you that. She did a terrific job covering this.
COOPER: Literally following him.
BORGER: Literally following him through the hallways. But the point is, we know that he met with House Republicans with whom he's not very close and never has been and because they, you know, they were against his immigration reform, campaign finance reform.
He said he wanted to give them a seat at the table, a voice. He met with Republican leadership but we don't know really whether he was involved in every jot of this, I do not believe that -- we know he wasn't.
COOPER: The Democrats were saying basically as soon as these guys left town then we were able to get back to negotiations. BORGER: Right. Well, that's the Democratic point. Look, I think he went there to make a point, to change the momentum, to change the conversation, to say --
COOPER: On the economy or on his campaign?
BORGER: Both. And to say Washington is broken and I'm going to fix it. And by the way, he didn't say that tonight.
KING: There was a three-way deal; Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans and House Democrats. And John McCain essentially sided with the House Republicans who said we are not going to be railroaded here. And they're the ones most worried about the election coming up in terms of members of Congress; the people who are most at risk are House Republicans.
Because it's a Democratic year right now and so John McCain sided with them and if nothing else slowed things down by saying it is not a deal until all four parties on board. That was his point at the White House. Is he saying no to this, yes to that policy? There's no indication of that at all.
COOPER: And if there was a deal, say Sunday so that when markets open on Monday and there's a deal in place, I mean, predict moving forward even the week ahead, how does it play out on the trail?
TOOBIN: I don't think it has much impact one way or the other.
KING: I don't think we know the answer to that.
BORGER: We don't know. It depends what's in it.
KING: If the markets rally for four weeks does that benefit one or the other? Does it make people happy if the markets go down? I don't think we know the answer to that.
BORGER: And the plan has grown increasingly unpopular every day.
GERGEN: That's the point.
BORGER: Every single day it's on downward trajectory. So we don't know where the public is going to be at that point or what's in it.
GERGEN: $700 billion and probably some bad headlines over the next few weeks on the economy are just not good news for John McCain. Let's just face it.
And, you know, we have the Palin/Biden debate coming up. That's going to be a tough one for them, too. You know, I think, this is a very, very important night even though it may fade in memory very quickly I think it was an opportunity that John McCain needed to take advantage of.
TOOBIN: I think that debate is very good news for the Obama campaign coming up because having seen Sarah Palin with Katie Couric, it is very hard for me to imagine Sarah Palin handling an evening like this for an hour and a half. That was a catastrophic awful embarrassment.
COOPER: Just to argue the counterpoint. Many people have underestimated her over the years in her elections in Alaska to their detriment. She has won albeit, a mayoral election and a governor of a small populated state.
TOOBIN: You know, these two guys whatever else you think of them, they're extremely knowledgeable and smart and experienced debaters. The interview that I saw with Katie Couric did not suggest that Sarah Palin is capable of that.
BROWN: but after that interviews, without question, expectations will be in her favor come.
TOOBIN: They couldn't be any lower that's for sure.
KING: No doubt about that.
COOPER: The question remains, will we ever see her do an interview again? That remains.
Let's toss it over to Wolf -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. We'd certainly love to do an interview with Sarah Palin here, as well.
Let me just do a little housekeeping. Over the course of this weekend, stay with CNN throughout the weekend. We'll have complete coverage of all the bailout negotiations on Capitol Hill. You want to know what's going on. We'll give you all the latest information. We'll also watch all the candidates, both of these candidates and the vice presidential candidates. Stay with us for that.
John King is going to have a special highlight wrap-up of this first presidential debate Saturday and Sunday night from 9:00 p.m. Eastern to 11:00 p.m. Eastern. You will want to see that.
I'll be back Sunday morning on "Late Edition, the Last Word on Sunday Talk" with complete coverage of all of this, as well.
The next debate, next Thursday, the vice presidential debate.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at CNN "Election Center." For all of us, thanks very much for watching.