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Morning News

Final, Town-Hall Style Presidential Debate Will be Key for Candidates

Aired October 17, 2000 - 10:19 a.m. ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: It may be a bit difficult to overstate the actual importance of this third and final presidential debate. The 90-minute session may well give the candidates their largest audience for the last time in a race still too close to call, just three weeks away.

According to the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll, 47 percent of those surveyed would choose George Bush; 44 percent favored Al Gore. Again, while that is a statistical dead heat, given the margin of error, it is worth noting that Bush has held the lead for three consecutive days, which suggests that he has gained support after debate No. 2.

For a preview, let's go live to St. Louis with Bob Franken.

Bob, good morning to you.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill.

And in this hall, the Washington University in St. Louis, is where the third and final debate is going to be held. You can see, over my right shoulder, what makes this debate different. This one has 142 chairs, which will be filled by what are called uncommitted voters who will be joining the candidates. They will be the ones who will be providing the questions.

This, a contrast, of course, to the earlier debates which were less formal -- rather, more formal than this one. The is the so- called town meeting format that has become such a critical part, now, of various presidential campaigns.

And as you pointed out, Bill, the polls are showing that there seems to be a slight trend toward George W. Bush after the first two debates. So most of the political experts feel that Al Gore is going to, in fact, really make some headway against him here to try and gain back the initiative.

Now, Al Gore is the one who has had long experience in doing town hall debates like this. You see him, here, practicing with some of the people he recruited to be the substitute real people to give him the questions, to grade his style and all that type of thing so he can bring it into the real contest, which will be occurring here this evening. Now, this debate is really going to be considered the springboard. The election is three weeks away. The election is still up for grabs, Al Gore is going to, as we pointed out a few moments ago, try and recapture the imagination of voters that he seemed to have after the convention. But if there is any momentum now, say the experts, it seems to be in the hands of George Bush, who has managed to hold his own, say these same experts, in the two debates, which was all he really had to do.

HEMMER: Bob, let's talk more about the question and answer session tonight. It's going to be a big topic tonight when we hear these undecided voters come here with their issues.

How are these issues, how are the questions, how are the people chosen in order to fill out tonight's 90 minutes?

FRANKEN: Well, the pollsters have something to do with that. They try and get people who are called -- they don't call them undecides. They call them uncommitteds.

And these are people who say that they haven't made up their minds yet, but that they could make up their minds and they could be influenced by the debate. And these people really are the metaphor of the campaign because, really, the battleground out there, now, is for the undecided, uncommitted voter -- the person who has not yet made up his mind.

So we're assuming we're really going to see the campaign in a microcosm this evening.

HEMMER: Is it possible the mood of this debate can be affected by the death of the governor in Missouri, Bob?

FRANKEN: Certainly; there is going to be a somber mood here. As we've reported, there was a brief discussion this morning between the debates commission and the two campaigns to decide whether to even proceed. It was decided they really did have to go ahead. But, obviously this is going to be -- cast a pall over this.

It happened so sadly, ironically, so close by. The people were involved in a very tough campaign of their own -- Governor Carnahan and John Ashcroft. So, certainly, it affects the world of politics. It's going to affect the mood. But there is a consensus in just about everybody who was involved here, they had to go forward. The election is too close, it's too vital to get this done now so the voters can start making up their minds.

HEMMER: And we can measure that impact directly when we watch it tonight.

Bob, thanks; Bob Franken from St. Louis.

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