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Gore and Bush to Meet in First Head-to-Head DebateAired October 3, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore and George W. Bush go through their final paces before their first presidential debate.
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CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It will be high noon at 9:00 p.m. in Boston: no confetti, no banners, no able advisers.
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WOODRUFF: Candy Crowley and the rest of our political team set the stage and preview strategy.
In the closest race since Nixon versus Kennedy, we will look to the past and the future of election 2000 before the tradition of presidential debates is carried on in Boston tonight.
ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS, with Judy Woodruff at CNN election headquarters, and analysts Jeff Greenfield and Bill Schneider.
WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie Shaw is on assignment in Danville, Kentucky, where he will moderate Thursday's vice presidential debate.
Tonight, of course, George W. Bush and Al Gore are the main attraction. When they take the stage at the University of Massachusetts in Boston in about four hours, their every word, their every gesture will be scrutinized by journalists, and more importantly, by the voters. A great deal of preparation has gone into this debate, some of it in the hall, most of it behind the scenes: the candidates ever mindful that nothing less than the presidency may be riding on their performances tonight.
Our correspondents, John King and Candy Crowley, are at the debate site. John, to you first.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, a great deal of excitement here at Boston and the University of Massachusetts -- didn't really have this sense of excitement back in 1996 during the campaign debates: the atmosphere more reminiscent of the first debate in 1992.
A short time ago, the vice president left the auditorium after taking his walkthrough. Now, the polls show a dead heat. But the Gore campaign insists that the fundamentals of the race work in their favor. And they say they are confident of victory five weeks from now if the vice president turns in a strong performance in tonight's opening debate.
KING (voice-over): The vice president's goal is to keep it relaxed, polite and focused on familiar policy differences with Governor Bush. Gore won the coin-toss and gets the first answer at tonight's debate. Senior advisers say the vice president will look for every opportunity to draw contrasts on three key issues: health care, education, and taxes. The more specific the better in the Gore camp's view.
TAD DEVINE, SENIOR STRATEGIST, GORE CAMPAIGN: You know, our goal here is not to surprise anyone, but to make sure that they understand the details behind the policy proposals.
KING: The vice president is betting the election will break his way if he can stress these points. On health care: that he favors a prescription drug benefit for all elderly Americans through the Medicare program, while Bush relies on insurance companies and HMOs to cover all but low-income seniors.
On taxes: that his $500 million mix of targeted tax cuts for things like college costs, health care and retirement savings is a better approach than the governor's $1.3 trillion across-the-board tax-cut plan. And on education: that Bush's support of using tax dollars for private school vouchers is a threat to public education.
Gore heads into the debate looking to shore up his support among constituencies critical to the Democrats' hopes for victory. The vice president just narrowly leads Governor Bush among voters over the age of 65, for example. President Clinton had a two-to-one lead over Bob Dole among those voters at this stage four years ago.
PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: When they start looking at the issues of prescription drugs and health care and Social Security, Al Gore's got a lot to say to them. The question is: Can he woo them back over? And if he does, he will be in a solid position.
KING: "Stay the course" will be the vice president's theme on the economy, the debate issue that most worries Republicans in the big battleground states.
CURT STEINER, GOP STRATEGIST: And one of the things, unfortunately, that is going to work to the vice president's advantage in this election cycle is going to be that it's generally going to be a pro-incumbent environment in Ohio. And to the extent that Gore can claim that incumbency mantle, unfortunately, that is going to be a little bit of an advantage for him here.
KING: The vice president believes experience is his trump card when it comes to leadership, and a mix of biography and humor the best weapons if Bush tries a line like this Republican favorite: WHIT AYRES, GOP POLLSTER: I've got a test for the voters watching the debates. In the post-Clinton era, figure out which one of these men is more likely to lie to you and vote against that one.
KING: It will be a familiar setting. Gore's resume includes more than 40 televised debates dating back to his days in Congress.
KING: But the stakes, of course, never higher: some 60 million, perhaps up to 75 million Americans expected to watch tonight -- the race of course a dead heat -- so the vice president's team already preparing what we call a "prebuttle" in the political business: this document taking issue with the points they expect Governor Bush to make tonight on taxes, on education, on how to spend the federal surplus.
A great deal of excitement and anticipation here tonight: the Gore campaign feeling upbeat, but the Bush camp saying it feels upbeat as well.
For more on that now, over to my colleague, CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.
CROWLEY: Thanks, John.
It will be high noon at 9:00 p.m. here in this room. And as you can see, no confetti, no banners and no small cadre of advisers, it will only be Al Gore and George Bush.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Tonight's not the night for gimmicks. Tonight's the night to talk about heart, compassion and vision.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Bush's goal is to show himself as a man of substance, ready for primetime, ready for the Oval Office. He needs an error free, powerful evening. Bush will emphasize his education agenda, a subject on which he expounds comfortably; his Social Security reform plan, which he believes has resonance among swing voters; his defense policies and his plans to revamp Medicare.
Aides say Bush is also prepared and eager to defend his across- the-board tax cut, which they fully expect Al Gore to target. There will be a single theme in Bush's policy talk: a bright line he wants to paint for voters. His agenda, he will will argue, gives more freedom to Americans. Gore's agenda, he will say, gives more power to the government.
But there is a broader picture that plays to what strategists see as a key Bush strength. In the end, the Bush camp wants viewers to know, not just the details of policy, but the nature of the man.
KARL ROVE, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: He's a plain-spoken person, he's not an accomplished orator, he's not a practiced debater, he's a person who, you know, sort of says what he feels and so look, there are people that are far more accomplished at debating, but he's a good strong leader.
CROWLEY: Bush is ready to use this side-by-side event to highlight instances where he believes Al Gore has changed positions for political gain. As the Texas governor arrived in Boston, aides did some early shelling.
ROVE: You know, we don't know exactly which version of the vice president we'll see tonight, alpha male or not, but people see George W. Bush as he is and who he is, and that's what's going to be important.
CROWLEY: A natural competitor, the governor is said to be most comfortable as a crunch player; if so, he will be in his favorite venue this evening.
BUSH: I look forward to it.
CROWLEY: With polls showing some lingering questions about his readiness for the job, Bush needs to show himself a man of substance with the personal qualities that would make voters comfortable to have him in the Oval Office for four years. As he arrived in Boston, Bush was described by aides as "serene and in the zone."
CROWLEY: What Bush needs to avoid are the danger zones. He has been ridiculed for months by late night TV about his grammatical slips of the lip and his opponents have tried to cast him as a lightweight. Whether it is fair or not no longer matters tonight, tonight there is no room for any mistakes by George Bush -- Judy?
WOODRUFF: All right, Candy.
And we're going to bring John King back into this conversation as well. John, what is it that the Gore camp sees as the greatest weakness on the other side that Gore absolutely must exploit or try to exploit tonight?
KING: Well, it's hard to put a singular on that, Judy, a greatest weakness, but they hope to -- they say they hope to through policy disagreements, especially in the areas of health care and taxes, win back the voters Al Gore needs to make the difference. A very close race, he needs to boost his standing among elderly voters, needs to do a better job among blue-collar voters. They think health care and the economy are the two issues to get at that.
Obviously, the vice president believes his experience makes him more qualified, but they think they are most effective -- and this they have tested in focus groups repeatedly -- when they draw specific policy contrasts designed to win over the key voting blocs they most need to lock up the critical battleground states.
WOODRUFF: And, Candy, the same question about the Bush camp, what do they see as Gore's greatest weakness or weaknesses that the governor needs to go after?
CROWLEY: Well, a couple of things: first of all, on the policy level, a little of what you have been hearing for the last couple of weeks from George Bush, and that is that Al Gore is going to take all this money and ruin the prosperity; that he is a threat to the prosperity, regardless of the fact that many people see Al Gore as part of the prosperity the country has enjoyed for the past eight years. So they will hit hard on prosperity, about who is better to lead.
But the other thing really is the leadership issue, they do believe that there are points that they can make about positions Al Gore has taken and then rethought. They believe that they can cast their man as the kind of guy that people can be comfortable with in the Oval Office. That he, as Bush often says, says what he means and means what he says.
WOODRUFF: John, how nervous is Gore going into this, any read on that that?
KING: Well, he has a great deal of experience at this level, Judy, obviously never in a presidential debate, several vice presidential debates, though, through two campaigns. The campaign says he is not nervous at all. And to follow up on one of Candy's points, a key element for the Gore strategy, they think the governor has been reasonably effective in coming back to the middle of the electorate.
They want through the vice president's answers and questions tonight to push him back, to show that Bush in their view is a conservative out of the mainstream on taxes, on other -- on education issues, like private school vouchers, and abortion rights could come up tonight. Again, if the two candidates are asked about the future of the Supreme Court, that is another area where the Gore campaign believes it can some support among key voters.
WOODRUFF: And Candy, just quickly, the same question for Governor Bush: how nervous?
CROWLEY: It's tough to believe that neither one of them is nervous. You know, they are, at the bottom of this, human beings. I mean, we've been talking about this for months, and you know, and Bush can't make a mistake and Al Gore has to look nice, and now be yourself. Hard for me to believe that he's not nervous. They say he's looking forward to it.
WOODRUFF: All right. Well, we're all nervous for them.
Candy Crowley, John King, thanks a lot.
Well, as the candidates head into tonight's debate, a new poll shows Gore ahead by 12 points in Pennsylvania, a day after another poll suggested the race was closer in the Keystone state. We are putting Pennsylvania in Gore's column in the CNN electoral map. Based on our analysis, Gore is leading in 15 states, including the big prizes of California and New York, as well as the District of Columbia, and that would give him a total of 215 electoral votes. Bush leads in 21 states, mostly in the South, including his native Texas and the Rocky Mountain region. That would give him a total of 176 electoral votes.
By our analysis, 147 electoral votes are up for grabs in 14 toss- up states, including Florida, Michigan and Ohio, as well as Gore's home state of Tennessee.
All right. Our Jeff Greenfield is joining us now. And Jeff, you've been doing a lot of thinking about these debate, you've covered debates for a few presidential elections. What is on your mind?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, I look at the map, and one of the things that strikes me is how unusual it is. I mean, the fact that Bush is contesting in Oregon and Washington state, which Michael Dukakis carried, and that Gore is doing reasonably well in Florida and Nevada. And what it says to me -- and I could be wrong; I don't have any proof -- is that this is an incredibly, to use the favorite word of pollsters, "fluid" race, that there's a lot more uncertainty out there than the poll numbers would show, where sometimes people are sort of forced to say, all right, who are you really for?
My sense is that both in the popular and electoral vote, this thing is up to grabs in a way most campaigns aren't. And so when you ask, "What's going to happen tonight?" I think that they're appealing to a much wider net than you might think. I don't believe it's coming down to like a few hundred thousand people in six states.
And as for what's going on, the worst thing in the world you can do if you are an operative is to overprepare one of these guys. If they come out looking like they've got to remember their lines, it's the worst thing that can happen in a debate.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jeff Greenfield, and you're going to be around for the rest of this 90-minute special...
WOODRUFF: ... INSIDE POLITICS, not to mention between now and the election.
Well, tonight's debate comes 35 days before Americans cast their votes and as our daily tracking poll offers continued evidence that the race is tight. Gore leads bush by two points in today's survey. That is essentially unchanged from the past 10 days in which candidates have been three points apart or less.
Our Bill Schneider has been comparing our poll to others. All right, Bill, tell us where does this race stand before the debate.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I believe what you might need is a nice poll of polls. And I've got one for you right here.
The Reuters poll shows Gore ahead by six; "The New York Times" poll, Gore leading by four. Our own CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll, we just reported, Gore by two, and "The Washington Post" poll, also Gore by two. All of them show Gore leading, but all of them are within the margin of error for each poll. Average the four polls and you get a Gore lead of three points.
Since we have four independent polls, we can conclude that Gore is probably ahead. But you know what? Not by much.
WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, and you're going be around with us, too, for this 90 minutes.
WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thanks.
And still -- I guess I have another question for you. Is that right?
What is it that Al Gore has going for him?
SCHNEIDER: Well, we can do it now or...
WOODRUFF: I'm sorry. My fault here. I just dropped the ball big time.
SCHNEIDER: Well, what I think Gore has going for him is simply two things really. First, the issues. Voters prefer Gore to Bush on health care, education, Medicare, prescription drug costs, and oil prices, and those are the most important issues in this election.
Voters prefer Bush on tax cuts and defense, but those issues are far less important to voters.
Gore benefits from the fact that people believe the country is moving in the right direction and they don't want to change direction, and he benefits from the fact that people believe the surplus should be used mainly to preserve Medicare and Social Security, and not to cut income taxes.
Gore also benefits from a stature gap. More than 70 percent of the voters say Gore is prepared to be president. Just under half think that's true of Bush. More people think Gore has the skills to negotiate effectively with Congress and with other world leaders than feel that way about Bush. People are just not sure that George W. Bush is up to this job.
WOODRUFF: All right then. So what does Bush have going for him?
SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, he matches Gore on two qualities: leadership and effectiveness. People believe both of these men would be strong and effective presidents. And one other thing, philosophically, the voters may be closer to Bush. Most Americans continue to say that they favor a smaller government with fewer services over a large government with many services, in principle. So when Bush says he wants to modernize government programs and give people more choices, that strikes a chord with a lot of voters. Like who? Like men. The key to the split in this election is still the gender gap. Men prefer Bush by about 12 points. Women prefer Gore by about 16 points. It's a battle of the sexes like we've never seen before in American politics.
Bush is the president of choice for men. Gore is the president of choice for women.
WOODRUFF: Which makes it all that more of a cliffhanger.
SCHNEIDER: That's right.
WOODRUFF: All right.
SCHNEIDER: Well, we could have co-presidents.
WOODRUFF: We tried that.
Bill Schneider, thanks.
Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, are the candidates prepared for the big night? We'll ask two of their top strategists: Karl Rove and Tad Devine.
WOODRUFF: Now, more on the candidates and their strategies for tonight's face-off. In a moment, we will talk with Gore senior adviser Tad Devine. But we begin with the Bush campaign chief strategist, Karl Rove.
Karl Rove, thank you for being with us.
KARL ROVE, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: Thank you, Judy. Glad to be with you.
WOODRUFF: There are some pundits who have been saying that you all have done such a good job of lowering expectations that all Governor Bush needs to do is just stand there for 90 minutes and he'll be perceived a winner. Are your own expectations that low?
ROVE: Well, I think Governor Bush is going to do fine tonight. He's not an accomplished debater as Al Gore, who's done this 40 times, but he'll do just fine. And it's a welcome opportunity to share his agenda for the middle class and to tell America what he would do as president and to share his leadership philosophy and his approach.
WOODRUFF: What will determine success in your eyes?
ROVE: Well, do we have an opportunity to lay out the governor's agenda and vision tonight, and to contrast it with Al Gore's and to let people know that he would change the tone in Washington, that he understands that leadership involves working across lines to bring Republicans and Democrats together on behalf of a big agenda for the country. And the debate ought to allow us the opportunity to do that.
WOODRUFF: What about the polls? There was a poll today in the "New York Times." There have been other so-called expert observers who are saying, there still are questions about -- in the minds of many voters -- whether Governor Bush is up to the job of being president. Is that a question that should be out there?
ROVE: Well -- well, I think it's a question about both men. What's interesting to me in the polls is that people -- people agree that Al Gore has spent more time on tasks getting prepared to be president. That is to say, he's been in office a longer period of time. But nonetheless, they rank Governor Bush as a stronger leader.
So they acknowledge that Vice President Gore has been in office for 25 years. But they see this man who has been in office only for six years as a stronger leader. That says something about how they perceive these two men. And it works to Governor Bush's advantage.
WOODRUFF: Karl Rove, President Clinton was quoted today as saying that the issues favor Vice President Gore. Do you agree with that?
ROVE: Absolutely not. Look, the issue of education, where this country has stagnated over the last eight years, works to Governor Bush's advantage. He's a reformer who has demonstrated great results in Texas. Social Security and Medicare reform: This administration came in eight years ago promising to reform Social Security and provide a prescription drug benefit under Medicare.
And in seven-and-a-half years, they haven't been able to get it done. That doesn't work to their advantage. This is an administration that came in offering a middle-class -- promising a middle-class tax cut, and instead signed into law the largest tax increase in American history: the tie-breaking vote of which was cast by Al Gore.
This is an administration that has presided over a decline in America's military readiness, and an administration which has not met the promise of working, of changing the tone in Washington, working across partisan lines to achieve a great agenda for America. So no, the issues maybe in Al Gore and Bill Clinton's find favor them, but they don't in the American people's mind.
WOODRUFF: Karl Rove, Jeff Greenfield has a question.
GREENFIELD: Hi, Karl.
This may be the wrong time to ask you to take a step back and survey the terrain with calm dispassion. But there's some strange things going on out there. Bush is contesting in Oregon and Washington State that used to be reliable Democratic. Al Gore is dead-even in Florida, which should have been your terrain.
He's way ahead in New Jersey, which used to be the Republican anchor in the Northeast. What is going on? What accounts for this kind of unusual pattern in this race, do you think? ROVE: Well, I think we're at one of those points in American politics where the agendas of the two political parties as they have existed for a great many years have lost their relevance to people. It's why Governor Bush was in West Virginia yesterday. There were two public polls in West Virginia this past week showing Governor Bush ahead by between two and five points of Al Gore in a state that the Republicans last won in an open race for the presidency in 1928.
So there's a lot of fluidity. It's going to be fluid right up to the end. It's going to be close right up to the end. And it will be settled by the last precinct in the last state on the last hour of the last day of this election, in my opinion.
WOODRUFF: Karl Rove, thank you very much for being with us.
ROVE: Sure enough. Thank you, Judy, Jeff.
WOODRUFF: Appreciate it. We'll be watching.
And joining us now: Gore campaign senior adviser, Tad Devine.
Tad Devine, I'm sure you heard Karl Rove say, because the vice president has so much more experience debating, so much more experience in the public arena, the inference is that the expectations are much higher for him than they are for Governor Bush.
DEVINE: Well, I think the expectations that we want to satisfy tonight are the expectations of the American people. They expect to hear a debate on the issues. And that's what Al Gore intends to provide.
He's going to focus on the central question of this election, which is whether or not the prosperity that this country enjoys right now can be extended to all Americans and not just the few, whether or not we can have a government that invests in education and a secure retirement and tax cuts targeted to the middle class. So that's what he'll be looking to satisfy: the expectations of the American people.
WOODRUFF: What about the so-called expert observers, Tad Devine, who are saying what Al Gore really needs to do is prove that he has a heart, that he has a human side, as well as a policy-wonk side to him?
DEVINE: Well, I would say to them that every time Al Gore has stepped onto the big stage -- whether it was at the convention speech, where he's -- about 25 million people saw him, whether it was in the selection of Joe Lieberman as a running mate, whether it was under the tight scrutiny of voters in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, he has succeeded. He's done tremendously well.
So I think, tonight, when he steps on that stage and people see him for who he is, a leader who is prepared to take on the challenges of the future, I think again he'll succeed as he has in the past.
WOODRUFF: Does he have to be careful not to come on too aggressively against Governor Bush? DEVINE: Well, I think the fight that he wants to make tonight is not with Governor Bush, but instead on behalf of America's working families. He's going to talk about taking on powerful interests that are standing in the way of progress, about drug companies that don't want a prescription drug benefit under Medicare, about HMOs and insurance companies that are standing in the way of a patients' bill of rights that lets doctors and patients make medical decisions, not insurance company bureaucrats. That's the fight that he wants to make.
WOODRUFF: But you're not really answering my question about how he conducts himself in this debate. Does he need to stay away from a more aggressive style that he used in some of the primary debates against Bill Bradley?
DEVINE: Well, I think his tone will be appropriate for the occasion. He needs to communicate his message first and foremost, and he's not looking tonight to go in and attack his opponent. We feel that this race is in solid shape right now. And if Al Gore can tonight deliver his message directly to the American people, he'll do very well.
So, that's going to be the focus of his tone and effort in the debate.
WOODRUFF: All right. Jeff Greenfield has a question for you as well,
GREENFIELD: Hi, Tad. You know, 12 years ago we had an incumbent vice president trailing in the polls, came out of a very successful convention, grabbed the lead, never relinquished it. That was George Bush the father.
This time, we have an incumbent vice president, had a very successful convention, came out, grabbed the lead, and now all our numbers say it's dead-even. And the question -- and I really would appreciate an answer to this question as opposed to the talking points that Al Gore would like to hear -- why hasn't he yet made the sale? What's stopping Al Gore from duplicating George Bush the father?
DEVINE: Well, listen, Jeff, this isn't 1988. I mean, we have a new landscape. You alluded to it earlier. We've got places like Florida, which the Bush campaign only weeks ago thought was part of their base, which is now contested, places like Ohio, where you would think they would have advantage. In fact, they've got a dead-heat on the hands right now.
So I think, you know, if we look to the past, you know, you're really not going to understand what this election is about. I think what this election about is whether or not someone will speak powerfully to the issues of concern that the American people have.
Now, it's not, I think, surprising that voters would take two candidates, neither of whom have ever run for president before, and wait until they've made their final decisions about who they're going to support. But everything that we've seen in this process, where voters have taken a close, hard look at Al Gore, leads them to conclude that he is ready to be a president, that he shares their values, and that he speaks very powerfully to their common agenda. So I think he's likely to succeed tonight, just as President Bush did 12 years ago.
GREENFIELD: Do you think that there is this tiny pool of undecided voters, or do you think, as Karl Rove suggested -- and to be blunt, I have -- that this thing is much wider-open, there are a lot more people who have yet to make up minds than we might think?
DEVINE: I think there are a lot people who are either soft or undecided right now. But as we look beneath the surface of this horse race, where we now believe we have a small but important advantage, we see tremendous advantage on the issues for the soft and undecided voters, and we think we'll prevail with them.
WOODRUFF: All right, Tad Devine, thanks very much for joining us.
And much more ahead on this special 90-minute edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come in the next half hour...
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BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bush versus Gore. The contrast in their economic policy proposals is clear and sharp.
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WOODRUFF: Brooks Jackson on one issue where the candidates have much to debate.
Plus, will Americans watch tonight's face-off? Jeff Greenfield on ratings, history and public interest. And later...
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HOWARD KURTZ, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: It's all part of a sports-like approach in which journalists lay the odds in advance, score the contest like a boxing match, and then declare a winner in the post- game wrap-up.
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WOODRUFF: Howard Kurtz on debates as a contact sport.
WOODRUFF: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now, a look at some other top stories.
A cease-fire call to Israelis and Palestinians failed today on the eve of yet another attempt to salvage peace in the Mideast. Palestinian gunmen battled Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 6th day of renewed violence. Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat head to Paris to meet with United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tomorrow.
The latest rebellion in Israel's Arab towns has paralyzed a large part of northern Israel and is blamed for at least 50 deaths since Thursday.
The Yugoslav crisis escalated today when President Slobodan Milosevic's government ordered the arrest of leaders of a strike. For a second straight day, opponents of Milosevic took part in a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience. The protesters are trying to force the Yugoslav president to acknowledge that the opposition won the presidential election late last month.
Milosevic refuses to concede defeat and has ordered a runoff election on Sunday.
Canadians have said their final farewells to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Current and former world leaders were among those who attended a state funeral for Trudeau today in Montreal. Trudeau died Thursday of prostate cancer at the age of 80. He served 16 years as prime minister, leaving office in 1984.
When "INSIDE POLITICS" returns, Brooks Jackson on the Gore and Bush plans for divvying up $4.5 trillion.
WOODRUFF: Under the rules of tonight's debate, candidates will have two minutes to respond to questions. There will be one minute for rebuttal, and the moderator may then extend the discussion or move on to another question. At the end of the debate, each candidate will have two minutes for closing remarks.
Both Bush and Gore are expected to grill each other on the specifics of their plans during the debate.
Brooks Jackson has more, now, on the candidates' plans for dealing with economic issues.
BROOKS JACKSON (voice-over): Bush versus Gore. The contrasts in their economic policy proposals is clear and sharp.
ROBERT GREENSTEIN, CENTER ON BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES: The plans are quite different. They're different in how much of the surplus they would use. They're different in where those surplus dollars would go. They're different in which groups of the population would get the principal benefits.
JACKSON: The candidates have different ideas about distributing the $4.5 trillion federal surplus projected for the next 10 years. Gore says he would pay down the national debt, eliminating the portion held by the public by the year 2012. Bush would take longer: 2016, by his figuring.
Gore is like Robin Hood. In proposal after proposal, he would redistribute wealth, taxing upper-income persons for government programs to benefit the less affluent. Gore's plan to extend the life of Social Security, for example, would pour in hundreds of billions from general tax revenues, more than half of which is paid by persons making over $100,000 a year, to benefit lower-income retirees.
Bush, on the other hand, would favor those who, as he puts it, pay the bills. Bush's tax cut is far bigger: $1.3 trillion between now and 2010, mostly in across-the-board rate reductions. Gore's collection of narrowly targeted cuts total less than half a trillion in the same period.
And bipartisan analysis by the Joint Tax Committee of Congress shows those making over $100,000 a year would get 51 percent of the money under Bush's plan, but they'd get very little under Gore's. Most of his tax proposals have income caps.
GREENSTEIN: So there's actually big differences for low and moderate income families -- better under Gore. Big differences for very high income families: they get a lot more under Bush.
JACKSON: But in their effect on the economy, the plans may not be so different. Each would stimulate growth through tax cuts or spending increases, according to a new study by the Conservative Heritage Foundation using a version of the Horton computer model of the economy.
WILLIAM BEACH, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: We put these very different plans into this model and we got some results. I guess the bottom line is that neither plan tanks the economy. In fact, both plans keep economic growth moving forward.
JACKSON: Over the next 10 years, the Heritage study predicts Gore's plan would produce about 600,000 more jobs; Bush's plan, about 800,000 more. And it also predicts that, for a family of four making about $50,000 a year, disposable income would increase about $3,000 over 10 years under Gore's plan, $4,000 under Bush's.
BEACH: From those measures you can say, well, the Bush plan kind of edges out the Gore plan at the tape.
JACKSON (on camera): So, when it comes to economic plans, these two have a lot to debate.
Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: Still to come on INSIDE POLITICS: former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry and "CROSSFIRE" co-host Mary Matalin give us their views on tonight's debate.
We'll be right back.
WOODRUFF: Just a reminder: CNN's debate coverage begins at 8:00, a full hour before the debate itself gets under way. We will be on the air from 8:00 Eastern until 11:30 Eastern. We will go on for one hour with a town meeting in Florida after the debate ends.
Well, joining us now from Boston, former Clinton press secretary and CNN political analyst, Mike McCurry, and in Washington, Mary Matalin, of CNN's "CROSSFIRE."
All right, my question to you both: You have been both on the inside. Mike, you've been in the Clinton White House. Mary, you were inside certainly the Bush White House, the Bush campaign. You've been an informal adviser to Governor Bush. What is going on inside these campaigns right now?
Mike, how much -- obviously, they don't know what the questions are --but how much of what they bring to tonight's debate is rehearsed and rehearsed? How much is spontaneous?
MIKE MCCURRY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, right now, an awful lot of prayer is probably going on. But, I'll be honest with you, this comes down to the candidates. This is one of those moments that is really is for real. There's a lot of spin, a lot of hoopla and politics.
But these are two guys on stage tonight in front of 75 million people arguing about, you know, what they want to do for this country. And that is -- comes down to what they do. There's no amount of advisers, consultants, rehearsals that can make a difference in that. It really comes down to how well both of these candidates express their vision for the future of the country.
And there's no substitute for genuine moments. In fact, if you think of debates, the things that we remember are those authentic moments where we really glimpse into the soul of the candidate. And that is probably what this debate tonight will turn on.
WOODRUFF: Mary, how much of this is truly spontaneous?
MARY MATALIN, CNN "CROSSFIRE": Well, they don't want so spontaneous that they lose track of their message. Look, this is -- we are beyond the silly season. I agree with Mike. We are live at George Washington University here. These kids are not asking about rats and moles and all that business.
They are asking serious, substantive questions. These candidates have to tonight lay out their case, contrast it with their opponent's. They don't want to be scripted. But they need to speak from their heart in what they believe. And they need to contrast it. And they are very different plans, as you have been pointing out for the whole hour. And they need to understand that this debate tonight is not a defining moment for Americans.
They're not -- they don't want to see these guys talking to each other. They want -- Americans want to be seeing -- want these guys to talk to them. And they should consider this a foundation for the next two debates -- or the next three debates, including the vice president -- because the voters really want to make a choice this one time. It's not one debate. It's four debates. There's a real choice. And that's what they need to do tonight: Point out that choice.
WOODRUFF: Mike, what is that Gore needs to be on the lookout for? What does he need to avoid doing or saying tonight?
MCCURRY: I think all of the things that we have talked about already in this hour: being overscripted, overprepared, looking canned. He really needs to talk substantively about the issues that matter to him.
Frankly, the Gore campaign feels if they keep this debate focused on substance, they are going to do well, because, by and large, on the issues that Americans rate as being most of concern to them, the vice president's position seems to be preferable to that of Governor Bush. So they -- they just want a substantive, good debate in which the vice president gets to talk about what he wants to do in a relaxed way that is engaging.
At the end -- you know, it's not like Patty Duke. We don't have to like him, like him. But at the end, you know, we are going to have to have some sense of: Can he do this job? Likewise, with Governor Bush, he has got to demonstrate to the American people he is up to this job. I think, of the two of them, he has somewhat a harder challenge, I think.
WOODRUFF: Mary, do you agree with that?
MATALIN: Well, we -- poll after poll, through the ups and the downs, there has never been any poll that has showed George W. Bush lagging on leadership. People believe he is a leader. They know he will bring good people to the Cabinet.
He needs to focus on -- and he will focus on -- not just that his programs are not building on the status quo, and that indeed, the continuation of a status quo -- which is where Al Gore is -- is really a danger to our continued prosperity: new programs, new government activism.
He needs to show -- and he will -- and he wants to be substantive and stay on the issues -- that he is a 21st-century innovative thinker, and that his solutions for Social Security and education and Medicare, and all of the rest of it include choice, which is better for families and better for the economy. He wants a substantive debate. And they're ready for it.
WOODRUFF: But -- but, Mary -- and I'll turn this and ask Mike as well -- is -- what is it that Bush needs to be careful about, that he needs to avoid doing?
MATALIN: What he needs to avoid is follow the vice president into the rhetorical briar patch. The vice president likes to throw out a lot of statistics and he likes to deploy a lot of chaff. Let me say it that way. And the message gets lost. The forest gets lost for the trees. Bush needs to stay on his vision. It's a very different one for America. It's very future-oriented. And he needs to stay on his vision, his message, and not follow the vice president.
WOODRUFF: Mike McCurry, if you were whispering a few words into the vice president's ears before he stepped out on that stage tonight, what would you say to him?
MCCURRY: I think the single most important thing, I would say: "Have some fun. You sometimes look like you really don't enjoy politics. Get out there. You have got a wonderful opportunity, with this large an audience, to really convince people that you care about this country and care about the people who are watching tonight. So enjoy that moment."
And I think if he can bring a little bit of humor into the occasion, which would be a big advantage for him, he'll have a very, very big night. But I grant, on the flip side, for the -- Governor Bush, he has got to -- almost has the opposite assignment: He has to look a little more serious. We have to kind of look at him and say: "You know, we really think this guy could be president of the United States. And we want to take another look at him."
I don't think -- if he doesn't cross that threshold, I'm not sure Mary is right, we may not have another debate of as much consequence as the one tonight.
WOODRUFF: Mary, if you had the chance to say a few words to Governor Bush -- you know him very well -- before he steps out tonight, what would you say?
MATALIN: Well, I would say, one, ignore punditry like that. These voters are not going to give it away. They are going to -- it's going to go right to the end. There's -- everything that has been said about this race to date has been wrong. This vice president cannot pull away. And with this economy, with the right track, with a popular president, nothing is giving this race to him.
I would say to Bush to ignore all of this, do what he does best, which is to talk to the American people. Do what he has done in Texas. Do what he has done across the campaign trail. Don't feel like he has to rise to some standard set for him by the inside-the- Beltway punditry. Just be who he is.
WOODRUFF: Mary, you are not suggesting that the pundits have ever made a mistake, are you?
MATALIN: I don't think we've called one thing right this entire year.
WOODRUFF: All right, Mary Matalin, Mike McCurry, thank you both. And we'll be talking to you a lot later. Thanks.
And when we return, watching and analyzing the debate: how the public and the pundits respond.
WOODRUFF: And joining us once again, my colleague Jeff Greenfield with some thoughts on the audience for tonight's debate -- Jeff.
GREENFIELD: Yes, Judy, since we've been spending the last week or month, or it seems like years, talking about what we'll be looking for tonight, it might be worth a moment to think about who will be looking and how many will be watching. Why? Because sometimes those numbers may tell us something important about what might happen on election day.
GREENFIELD (voice-over): The Nixon-Kennedy debates back in 1960 drew enormous audiences. The third debate drew a 61.0 rating, still the all-time champ. There were lots of reasons: a very close race, and they were historic firsts. There was also no competition.
Twenty years later, the lone debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter also drew an enormous rating, 58.9. Again, a close election and it was the only chance to see the two major party candidates in action face-to-face.
And look at what happened back in 1992. In their first debate, Bush Clinton and Ross Perot faced stiff competition from a baseball playoff game on CBS. But the debate drew a 38.3 rating, some 85 million viewers, by one estimate, more than four times the viewership for the ball game. In fact, because all the debates were squeezed into an eight-day window and because of a third-party presence, a huge sense excitement grew.
By the last debate, an estimated 97 million were watching, an all-time record. Coincidentally or not, the turn-out on Election Day jumped five points from 1988, the only time in the last 40 years that the voter turn-out increased from one election to the next.
Now by contrast, the second Clinton-Dole debate in 1996, also airing against a baseball playoff, drew an all-time record low rating of 26.1. And the voter turnout that year was under 50 percent, lowest in more than 70 years.
GREENFIELD: Now there's a baseball playoff game on tonight, so the size of the audience may offer a clue about just how much interest there is in this election. A high rating could signal a jump in voter turn-out five weeks from today. By contrast, if this first debate in a dead-even race doesn't attract a lot of people, that is a pretty convincing sign that even now the public is just simply not engaged in this race.
WOODRUFF: But it's hard to believe people aren't as absolutely riveted on this as we are.
GREENFIELD: Well... WOODRUFF: That may be the case.
GREENFIELD: We're going to find out.
WOODRUFF: We'll find out. Jeff Greenfield, thanks.
And no matter how many Americans tune into tonight's debate, the winner will likely be determined by the media coverage after the fact.
Our Howard Kurtz takes a closer look at how the pundits keep score.
KURTZ (voice-over): Ever since John Kennedy and Richard Nixon first squared off, presidential debates have been sober affairs filled with serious talk about issues. But the press has a way of playing up moments that come to symbolize these debates, even something so basic as Kennedy appearing cool while Nixon was sweating.
It's all part of a sports-like approach in which journalists lay the odds in advance, score the contest like a boxing match, and then declare a winner in the post-game wrap-up. And that, oddly enough, can change public perceptions, even among those who watched the main event.
Many people thought President Ford won the second debate against challenger Jimmy Carter back in 1976. But the media went wild over this moment:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: "Ford's gaffe on Eastern Europe will haunt his campaign to Election Day," "U.S. News" declared. The focus on that misstatement was so intense that Ford was quickly transformed into the loser.
Few people saw Ronald Reagan's 1980 debate in New Hampshire against George Bush and others. But the press immortalized one moment when there was a dispute over just who would get to debate...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am paying for this microphone...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Television loved it, and Reagan looked like a leader. "The Washington Post" said he "scored points by appearing authentically angry and willing to say so." No one remembered anything else that was said.
Four years later, the press was absolutely certain that President Reagan would demolish Walter Mondale in their first debate.
"Reagan enjoys an advantage because of his skills as a television communicator," said "The Dallas Morning News." And "The New York Times" reported that "Mr. Reagan's political strategists dismissed the debates as insignificant."
Well, guess what? Mondale won the debate, with Reagan looking defensive and confused. But Reagan regained his footing in the second face-off and trounced Mondale on election day.
There were 89 minutes left after the opening of the Michael Dukakis-George Bush debate in 1988, but the media cared only about the first dramatic moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAWL: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
GOV. MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't, Bernard, and I...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The journalistic conclusion: The Massachusetts governor was utterly bloodless. "TIME" magazine said, "Dukakis could have vented anger at the premise of the question," Instead, said the magazine, "Dukakis mustered all the emotion of a time-and-temperature recording."
In '92, President Bush seemed to lose a town-hall debate against Clinton and Ross Perot not because of anything he said, but with a brief gesture pounced on by the press.
"Bush glanced at his watch as if he wished the whole thing were over," Gannett News Service said.
"The Boston Globe" said, "Bush knew by then that one more chance for a comeback was slipping away from him."
Late last year, the president's son, George W. Bush, touched off a media storm when he was asked in an Iowa debate which political philosopher or thinker he most identified with.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Christ, because he changed my heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Suddenly, Bush was under assault for dragging religion into politics, with "New York Times" columnist Maureen Dowd accusing him of "playing the Jesus card."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNN "CROSSFIRE")
BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: I distrust politicians who wear religion on their sleeve, so I was offended.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNN "INSIDE POLITICS")
RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": There has been a consistent pattern in his willingness to talk about his religious faith.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But the pundits don't always carry the day. After the recent face-off between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio, most prognosticators agreed that Lazio had scored big time by walking over to the first lady and demanding she sign a pledge banning soft money ads.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNN "CAPITAL GANG")
KATE O'BEIRNE, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": I thought it was terrific that a man in politics was willing to go after a female competitor like he was willing to. Plenty of guys won't do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But when polls showed that women voters in particular thought the congressman was being rude, the media's conventional wisdom changed overnight.
(on camera): Tonight's debate should be filled with substance: Al Gore talking about Medicare and the environment, George W. Bush stressing education and tax cuts. But for the media scoreboard, keep an eye on which moments get the instant replay treatment. After all, the post-game commentary will reverberate long after the two candidates have left the stage.
This is Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."
WOODRUFF: And this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS continues at the top of the hour. We'll have an update from the debate site in Boston, and find out how the Bush and Gore camps plan to spin the candidates' performances on the Web. Plus...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Have we had debate blunders? Yes. Did they matter? That's a harder question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Bruce Morton will look at memorable debate moments the candidates would prefer to forget.
ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Here again, Judy Woodruff.
WOODRUFF: Welcome back to this extended INSIDE POLITICS.
George W. Bush says his lead-off debate with Al Gore is not a night for gimmicks or scripted lines, but both candidates will have put in plenty of preparation time when they step up to the lectern, and their campaigns have tried as much as possible not to leave anything to chance.
Our Jonathan Karl joins us now from the debate site in Boston -- Jonathan.
JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, right now both candidates are in lockdown mode: no public appearances whatsoever until they take that stage three hours from now for that initial handshake.
George W. Bush arrived here in Boston first earlier today, greeting people at Logan Airport with a wave, afterwards going to the debate site, taking a brief survey of the site, stepping behind the podium, testing things out, and then going to his hotel to relax.
Afterwards, Al Gore arrived. He brought Air Force Two right up next to the Bush-Cheney campaign plane, also greeting people at Logan Airport with a wave, taking his own tour of that debate site. And when they finally do take the stage tonight, virtually every detail in this debate, from the initial handshake on, has been the product of negotiations between the two campaigns.
KARL (voice-over): Every detail was negotiated. First, the temperature inside the hall: For the record, it will be 65 degrees. The vice president wanted it colder, initially asking for a chilly 50 degrees. He didn't get it.
And the podium length, 48 inches. Bush, not quite as tall as Gore, wanted his podium 2 inches shorter. He didn't get that.
On bigger issues, Bush didn't want podiums at all. He lost out for this first debate, but got his way for the next one.
And Gore, who has famously used props, like this photo of 1920s protectionists Smoot and Hawley in his debate with Ross Perot, can't use this favorite tactic here. The negotiated deal says no props. It also says no lights on the audience. The cameras won't show audience reaction. That means Gore can't do what he did during an Iowa caucus debate when he had a farmer in the audience stand up, illustrating a point about flood relief.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KARL: We've been hearing relentlessly from top aides to both candidates about how they intend to keep this debate positive, staying on-message, putting out their positive message rather than attacking their opponents. But both sides have also put out some of their own props here outside the debate hall.
The Bush-Cheney team here has put out the debate survival kit. This debate survival kit promises a guide to Al Gore's attacks and distortions. The Gore team, not to be outdone, has their own facts to consider, a debate-watching guide, where they say this is a guide to misleading and false statements you can expect to hear from Governor Bush.
So while they're talking positive about the debate, they're also prepared very much for the attacks. And one other thing, when the hear the spin after the debate talking about who won and lost, keep this in mind: I spoke to Chairman Daley, chairman of the Bush -- of the Gore campaign earlier. He was asked, would there be under any circumstances whatsoever where he would come out after the debate and admit that Gore lost? And his word -- one-word answer was simply no -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: And of course, we have a feeling the Bush people would say the same thing. There's no way they would admit that their man lost. But that's par for the course.
All right, Jon Karl, thanks.
Well, now, let's go to CNN technology correspondent Rick Lockridge with a look at how the campaigns will spin the debate on the Internet -- Rick.
RICK LOCKRIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And they will. Judy, during the recent Rick Lazio-Hillary Clinton debate, the Lazio folks sent me an e-mail about every seven minutes during that debate rebutting virtually everything Mrs. Clinton said. Well, the presidential candidates are going to go one better than that tonight, doing real- time spin during the debate. There will be responses, rebuttals, denials, and accusations, all in real-time.
The George W. Bush campaign has set up a Web site expressly for that purpose. You can go to it at Debatefacts.com, and they couldn't even wait to get started with their spinning. You read down the page here, they're already attacking Al Gore, and of course, the debate hasn't even started yet.
This reads the Democratic nominee is widely known for his willingness to distort the facts, et cetera, et cetera. It's almost as though they couldn't really wait to get started.
Now, the Gore team has not set up a separate page. You'll want to go to their regular Web site at algore.com. But they promise that they will have their "ready team" ready to do the spinning during the debates.
Now, Judy, it used to be that you had to wait until after a debate to hear all the spin, now there's been all this pre-debate spin and there's going to be the spin during the debate and after the debate. A voter could get positively dizzy, don't you think?
WOODRUFF: I do; and it makes you wonder when they're going to have time to listen to the debate.
Rick, do we have any idea how big a staff is involved in each campaign, working on this on-line presentation?
LOCKRIDGE: Well, they didn't divulge that, but they did say that they had a team of people that were set aside just for this purpose; and it will be interesting to see just what kind of language comes out of this sort of Web debate during the actual debate.
WOODRUFF: All right; Rick Lockridge, thanks a lot, and we'll be checking in with you as well.
If you are looking for debate coverage online, be sure to go to cnn.com/election2000. Our Web site will feature spin by our own Tucker Carlson and Bill Press as the debate happens, a scorecard that allows you to you pick a winner and much more.
And now let's talk about tonight's debate with CNN political analysts Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook. Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.
What will we see, Stu, from these gentlemen? What will we hear from them that we haven't heard before now, on the campaign trail?
STUART ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Well, I hope we'll hear something different, but I wouldn't expect much, Judy.
I mean, I think the concern is that we're going to hear just regurgitation of their past positions, attacks, charges. I think what is most important, actually, although when you listen to Tad Devine and Carl Rove they talk about substance, I think many people are just going to be looking at the two men and sizing them up and getting a sense about who they are and who the voters are comfortable with just from looking at them and listening to them.
WOODRUFF: Charlie, do you expect to hear or see anything different from them tonight?
CHARLES COOK, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Not really, because this is -- I agree with Stu; they're going to be taking these candidates' measure. And this is not -- the race is so close, that this is not a time for either candidate to be taking risks.
But I think the most important thing for George Bush is that he's got to come across meatier, more substantive. You know, all too often, when he's asked a question, Bush will give his opinion, but rarely are there facts, are there statistics, examples, experiences attached to those opinions; and that's what's led to that opinion, a view that a lot of -- reservations that a lot of voters have about whether he's deep enough, smart enough, knowledgeable, has the right kind of experience. And so, I think he needs to come across a lot meatier than he has in the past.
WOODRUFF: And Stu, do you agree with that, that he needs to give more detail, because you were just saying what the public is really going to be looking at -- just looking at both men, taking the measure of them overall?
ROTHENBERG: Well, no -- I think there are two sides of this coin, Judy.
I think, yes, there is what Bill Schneider, earlier in the program, referred to as a stature gap -- I believe in his discussions with you. That is so interesting, it seems to me, in that you have the race a dead heat at the moment, but our polling shows a significant stature gap.
It seems to me as though Bush does have to convey a substance, a seriousness, a maturity, show where he wants to take the country. But I don't think you can separate the substance from the style. I think people are going to be looking for both; but I don't think they're going to be sitting there with checklists as far as whose issues they agree with more and comparing public policy. But, at the same time, Bush does have to convey the impression of seriousness and substance.
WOODRUFF: Charlie, it sounds like both of you are suggesting that Bush has a tougher job tonight than Gore. Is this what you're saying?
COOK: Well, you know, if this debate had been held two or three months ago, where Bush had really high favorable ratings and Gore had much lower favorable ratings -- so that people liked George Bush more, they felt more comfortable with him. And I think the threshold of what he needed to get over was a lot lower at that point.
But now that both of their favorability ratings are basically the same, then that comfort level, that comfort advantage that George Bush had is gone. And so I think it raises a threshold that he has to clear; the qualification threshold that he has to get over in order to win this debate, or, in that sense, in order to persuade people that he really does deserve to be president.
ROTHENBERG: Judy, can I add a couple points here?
ROTHENBERG: First of all, it's greater risk for George W. Bush, but also the potential for greater reward. If he does show stature and smarts and maturity, I think he gains much more than Al Gore would.
Second of all, if this debate had taken place two weeks ago, with Bush trailing in the polls by five points or eight points, I think the pressure would have been much greater on him than it is now. Charlie is right, of course; if it had been three months ago where he was way ahead, that would have been a relative cake walk for him. But he has actually lucked out that this debate didn't take place a couple weeks earlier.
And third, let me make a recommendation: I suggest that one of the candidates answer a question in Spanish. I think that would -- you want to talk about something new. I think they should answer it in Spanish and then go to English, and I think that would be a quirky, interesting way to get some media attention.
WOODRUFF: Well, let's see if they are listening and they take your advice.
Charlie, what about Gore. Just quickly, what does he need to do?
COOK: Well, I -- a lot of people have said that Vice President Gore needs to come across with a persona that is different from Eddie Haskell. He -- I mean, everybody knows that Al Gore is very smart, he knows a lot about these issues, he has all the experience in the world.
But the doubts that people have has to do with trust -- is that there has been a certain tawdriness around the White House for the last eight years. People are tired of embarrassments and scandals. And they want to be assured that that would end if Al Gore were elected president. So think he just needs to come across as a straight-shooter and very trustworthy.
WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to have to leave it there.
Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg. And we look forward to talking to you both after this debate. Thanks a lot.
ROTHENBERG: Thanks, Judy.
Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: advertising the issues -- David Peeler on how much the campaigns are spending to get the message out to the voters.
WOODRUFF: As the candidates prepare to debate the issues, let's take a closer looked at the messages in their paid campaign ads.
Joining us now: David Peeler of Competitive Media Reporting, which tracks ad-spending in the top 75 media markets.
David, let's start with Al Gore. What is the focus of his ad campaign?
DAVID PEELER, PRESIDENT & CEO, COMPETITIVE MEDIA REPORTING: Well, Judy, it's very interesting what we see on the Democratic side, and particularly with Vice President Al Gore.
What we see is that the DNC and the Gore campaign have used two very, very different media tactics that, combined, can be very effective. Al Gore has been spending, over the last five days, about $4 million against what we call his bio-ad. It touches on all the main themes of Al Gore, what he's running for. And it also gets his message out about who he is.
Now, let's remember, this is a tight race. So there are still a lot of undecided people involved. Following that, he spent about $1.7 million on his prescription drug ad. That's the one topic that we've seen gain some traction, at least in the ad wars, through this campaign. So the Gore campaign is spending against those two general broad themes.
What's interesting here is that the Democratic National Committee has come in with a very different tactic. They've employed a state- by-state tactic. And what we mean by that is, they've tailored ads in states like Iowa, which criticize Bush on his education record -- and in the last five days alone, have spent about $12,000. That's a specific ad cut for Iowa.
In the state of Washington, we see that the issue switches to the environment, criticizing Houston's pollution problems and blaming them on Governor Bush. They've spent about $73,000 on that very tailored ad. The DNC is also spending some money on the environment issue. In some of the other key battleground states, we've seen about $740,000 spent so par.
So what you see is a very broad, general campaign theme by the Gore campaign, and a very specific targeted state-by-state race by the Democratic Party in support of him. So it's a very, very strong media tactic.
WOODRUFF: David, what about the Republicans? Are they doing something similar?
DAVID PEELER: Well, that's the interesting contrast. What the Republicans have decided to do, at least so far in this campaign, as we see, is that they're really -- have two broad issues. We see George W. Bush spending a fair amount of money against the prescription drug issue and why his plan is different than Gore's and better than Gore's.
It also touches on some of his main themes, but it's a much broader ad strategy. He also spent about $4 million on that. He went onto spend $750,000 on the education-accountability issue. That's a very, very big Gore issue. In support of Governor Bush, we've seen the RNC come in and spend some money against the new tagline: education recession. It seems to be a tagline that we are hearing a lot on the Bush side of the campaign.
And it's one that has taken hold. And they've also come in with about $3 million in spending on the prescription drug issues. So if -- you see, they are very different tactics. This is a broad tactic, again tailored to the voter-at-large in all those background states. But it's a single, consistent message. So it's a different tactic than we see from the other side.
You know, what we're interested in seeing is, with the debate tonight, a couple of things. If this race continues to be as tight as it, it's going to be about the margins. It's going to be about those voters that can be swung or those independents. That means to me, it's going to have to be a state-by-state campaign.
But you can count on this. There's a bunch of media people sitting in editing bays around the country tonight to see if there is an issue that takes traction or if somebody makes a gaffe, because they will be a -- guaranteed, there will be a commercial on the way to the stations tomorrow.
WOODRUFF: Ah, so that's the way it works.
David Peeler, thanks a lot.
PEELER: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: And when we return, "Time" magazine's managing editor, Walter Isaacson, joins Jeff Greenfield for tonight's debate. And Bruce Morton on the blunders of past presidential debates
WOODRUFF: A good luck call from "bluegrass country." Joe Lieberman made the call today to running mate Al Gore wishing him well in tonight's debate. Lieberman is in Richmond, Kentucky, where he took time out to rub a statue of Daniel Boone, considered a good luck gesture by local students.
Lieberman is preparing for his vice presidential debate with Dick Cheney Thursday night in Danville, Kentucky.
Well, the first of three presidential debates, as we know, begins about 2 1/2 hours from now. Our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield is back with us now to have a conversation with "TIME" magazine's Walter Isaac -- Isaacson -- Jeff.
GREENFIELD: Walter Isaacson is the managing editor of "TIME" magazine and joins us from Boston.
Walter, we heard John King tell us earlier tonight that one of Al Gore's goals is to get Bush out of the middle, to try to paint him out of the mainstream the way George Bush's father did to Michael Dukakis.
Has -- so far, has Gore succeeded in that, do you think?
WALTER ISAACSON, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": No, he hasn't, and for two reasons. First of all, I don't think George Bush is that far out of the mainstream. He's conservative, but most people realize both in temperament and in personality and ability to work across party lines he is not that far from the center.
The other thing is that there are two different types of spectrums in American politics. There's left/right, but there's also this populist versus the powerful, and that really been Al Gore's message so far: not so much that Bush is on the far right but that he's on the side of the powerful and Gore's the populist who's on the side of the people. So it's sort of a blurred message so far.
GREENFIELD: Let me ask you about your role as opposed to ours. Tonight, we all have town meetings. We'll have instant flash polls. You as the managing editor of a major print magazine have a luxury we don't. You've got several days to put together your take on what happens tonight.
How do you and your troops do it? What will you be looking for over the next couple of days that will give you clues as to what might have happened here, apart from the obvious polling?
ISAACSON: Well, first of all, with the obvious exception of you, Jeff, it's amazing how wrong the pundits can be right after a big event. A lot of people thought that Al Gore's convention speech was bad when it turned out to be good. People have misread debates.
What we have the luxury of doing in a magazine is actually talking to a lot of people. And as it sinks in, as the debate sinks in, not sort of guessing who won and who lost the debate, but the really important issue, which is "Who makes you feel more comfortable as your potential president?"
And after two or three days after a debate, that really sinks into the population, and we get to interview a lot of people. We get to be around the country. We get to know what the second and third echo waves and the reverberations are. And it's not a contest.
I don't think most people out there, most Americans, most of us are looking at this debate as some contest to say: Let's score it. Who won? Who lost?
They're looking to feel, who agrees with me on the issues and who do I feel comfortable with as president?
So we've got to get away with that first day thing, which is "Who won? Who lost? Let's score it like a boxing match."
GREENFIELD: Very quickly, Walter, the spinmeisters who come on air tonight, if their candidate were to chant praises for Satan, they'd find a way to say that was a good move. Do these guys later on, when they're off the record, not on camera, actually tell you and your reporters what they really think about happened?
ISAACSON: Well, especially a day later you can certainly tell what they really think. You can figure out a campaign being deflated, then you can see when they're disappointed.
GREENFIELD: All right. And we'll see it in "TIME" magazine next week.
Walter Isaacson, thank you very much for joining us -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right. We do what we all do, a little reading between the lines the next day and between the paragraphs.
Well, one thing you can be sure of, Al Gore and George W. Bush will try their best to avoid a mistake in tonight's debate.
Our Bruce Morton looks back at some gaffes in the past and their impact on the race for the White House.
MORTON (voice-over): Have we had debate blunders? Yes. Did they matter? That's a harder question.
In 1988, debate moderator Bernard Shaw of CNN asked Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, who opposed the death penalty, a provocative question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAW: ... if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: Dukakis could have said, "Well, I'd want to kill him with my bare hands, but ..." Instead, he gave his usual emotionless answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't, Bernard, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: A missed opportunity, but Dukakis, who lost to George Bush, made worse mistakes. Remember his ride in a tank?
Ross Perot. A blunder or effective self-deprecating humor? You decide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSS PEROT (REF), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm all ears.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: President Bush probably erred when he looked at his watch twice, as if bored, during a 1992 town meeting format debate with then Governor Bill Clinton. But a real blunder that might have swung an election? Well, President Gerald Ford, debating Jimmy Carter in 1976, insisted that the Soviet Union didn't dominate Eastern Europe, even when a reporter gave him a chance to recover.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Could I just pause? Did I understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence and occupying most of the countries there and making sure with their troops that it's a communist zone?
FORD: I don't believe, Mr. Frankel, that the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Romanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: The Soviets did have troops in Eastern Bloc countries and reporters jumped on Ford's statement.
STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The analysts noted it and they took after it, and so you start to see a drop in his ratings in who won and who lost within 24 hours. So, that -- that was a world- class gaffe.
DAVID BRODER, "WASHINGTON POST": And I think myself that had it not been for the four or five days when that gaffe about Poland dominated the news, that Ford might very well have won that election in '76.
MORTON: The stakes are high. Richard Nixon's looks in his first debate with John Kennedy hurt him. Gerald Ford's "liberation of Poland," as reporters called it at the time, hurt him.
Not everything is memorized sound bites. The stakes are high when presidential candidates debate. That's one reason why it's fun to watch.
Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: And of course, those of us pointing out those mistakes never make mistakes ourselves.
That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Our debate coverage starts at 8 o'clock Eastern tonight. I'm Judy Woodruff. The "MONEYLINE NEWS HOUR" is next.
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