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Who Won the Third Presidential Debate?

Aired October 18, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For me it's sort of like the story of Goldilocks. The first debate was too hot, the second debate was too cold, the third debate was just right.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Was Al Gore just right or too hot?


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's like that lady one time said when she was introducing me: He may have his daddy's eyes, but he's got his mother's mouth. Maybe that's why I did all right in those debates.


NOVAK: Was George W. Bush all right or too fuzzy?

Tonight, rating the debate.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Congressman Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, a Gore supporter, and Congressman Joe Scarborough from Florida, a Bush supporter.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The bad news for all of us political junkies is that the debates are over. The good news is that we still have three weeks of campaigning in what is the closest presidential race in 40 years.

Al Gore and George W. Bush moved quickly to get out of St. Louis for today's campaigning. The vice president returned to the scene of his caucus triumph last year, Iowa -- earlier this year, Iowa, where he blasted the Bush Social Security plan as Social Security minus.

Governor Bush was in the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin where he defended his Social Security reform. And the "W. Stands for Women Tour" was launched today with the formidable Barbara Bush, the mother of the candidate, in the lead.

But here in Washington, we're still mulling over that third and final debate. Was Gore too mean? Was Bush too inept?

Bill Press is in Los Angeles -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Good evening, Robert. Congressman Scarborough, I have to be honest with you. In the second debate, the last presidential debate, I thought Al Gore totally tanked because he was so low-key -- there was no fire, there was no life.

Congressman, last night, George Bush was a carbon copy of Al Gore in that last debate. He was so low-key he was almost moribund.

My question to you is did he decide not to fight back or is he incapable of fighting back? Which is it?

REP. JOE SCARBOROUGH (R-FL), BUSH SUPPORTER: I think what he decided was that he was going to go ahead, continue to give the same message that he's been giving for some time now: that Al Gore is a big government spender and he just is not the person to lead us into the 21st century. At the same time, you had Al Gore, who was -- I don't care what anybody says -- Al Gore was a bully again last night. The guy was flying all across the stage. It was like "Return of the Gladiators." He continually went into George W.'s space. And yet when Rick Lazio does it, he's just an awful person.

But Al Gore, I mean the guy was just following Bush around the stage. He was very unlikable. And of course, your own polls here at CNN showed that by a tally of 2 to 1 the American people like George W. Bush more, they trust him more, they think he has leadership qualities that are needed to lead this country. And I think last night was bad news for Al Gore.

Too little too late as they say.

PRESS: Well, congressman, clearly there was a difference in style, but I think maybe the difference was between somebody who's a fighter and somebody who's a wimp.

I thought Tom Daschle today really summed it up very, very quickly in what the American people saw last night. Let's listen to Senator Daschle's take on last night.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Al Gore hit a home run and George Bush proved he wasn't in the major leagues.


PRESS: I mean that was it, Congressman. One had the experience -- one showed he had the experience. The other just talked in banalities all night long.

SCARBOROUGH: Yes, well, unfortunately, he's going to have to deal with the guy for the next four years that he says isn't in the major leagues...

PRESS: You say.

SCARBOROUGH: because George W. Bush did very well. He's ahead in all the polls.

I mean, look where they're campaigning today. I mean, they are campaigning in two states that Michael Dukakis won in 1988, in Iowa and in Wisconsin.

And one other thing: You know, everybody's talking about how George W. Bush can't debate as well as Al Gore. I think it's very important to remember that back in 1984, Gallup took a poll after the Walter Mondale-Ronald Reagan debate and Mondale won by 19 points. And yes, that really did end up helping President Mondale.

PRESS: Well, I haven't quoted one poll. I don't trust polls either.

SCARBOROUGH: Of course you don't trust polls when George W. Bush is in the lead.

PRESS: What I'm talking about is Bush just sat there like a bump on the log. Let me give you one quick example, OK. Al Gore said under the last eight years, the number of federal employees, the size of the federal government, has shrunk, and under the last five years, the size of the Texas government has gone up: Bush never rebutted it. And he can't rebut it either, can he, because it's true, isn't it? It's true, isn't it?

SCARBOROUGH: Sure he can rebut it. He can say -- he can say, sure, Bill Clinton and Al Gore cut 250,000 people out of the military...

PRESS: He didn't say anything.

SCARBOROUGH: ... and then asked them to go to more places than we've ever gone before.

PRESS: But he didn't say anything, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: Eh, eh, you know what? Last night was not about him winning a Harvard-style debate. It was about him getting the message of less government, more freedom, more personal responsibility into the White House. And that's what it was about.

NOVAK: Let's get -- let's get Congressman Meehan in here. Marty, I want to show you a couple polls that Joe mentioned briefly. CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll taken as a flash poll right after the debate: Who was more likable? Bush, 60 percent; Gore, 31 percent. Who was more believable? Bush, 52 percent; Gore, 41 percent.

Now, congressman, you've been an extraordinary successful politician in a district that used to be a battleground with Republicans. Do you think somebody who is not likable and not believable can be elected president of the United States?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D-MA), GORE SUPPORTER: Look, that particular poll might be good news if George Bush and Al Gore were running for student council president, but they're running for president of the United States, and people want someone who's capable, who will stand up and fight for them, and they have that person in Al Gore. Substantively, on the issues, that was a -- there was no question that Gore was better prepared, had a better grasp of the issues.

George W. was bumbling and stumbling and looked like a deer in the headlights on a number of occasions. When people talk about who they want as a leader of the free world, they want someone who knows what they're doing. And on that count...

NOVAK: I thought we were electing a president of the United States. But that's all -- that's -- let me -- let me show you, Marty, why the American people, outside of Massachusetts at least...


... don't like...

SCARBOROUGH: And Bill Press.


NOVAK: ... don't like Al Gore. We made a little montage. You know what a montage is? Yes.

MEEHAN: I can't wait. I can't wait.

NOVAK: Let's take a look at it.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But can you get things done?



GORE: What grade do you teach?

JIM LEHRER, HOST: Oh, oh, oh. That's a violation of your rule, Vice President Gore.

GORE: Can we extend the time?

LEHRER: Yes, well, hold on one sec here, though. It would be a violation of the rules.

GORE: If you don't -- my turn.

LEHRER: Vice President Gore...


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GORE: I think that speaks for itself.

LEHRER: It's a question...

BUSH: No, it doesn't speak for itself, Mr. Vice President. It speaks for the fact that there are certain rules in this that we all agreed to, but evidently rules don't mean anything.


NOVAK: You see the thing is that they asked -- Jonathan Karl of CNN asked right after the debate, he asked him, you violated the rules. He said, well, there's things more important than rules, it's being elected president of the United States. Isn't that the liberal mentality? Rules don't count, whatever works counts?

MEEHAN: You know, George W. seemed to be afraid that somebody was going to actually ask a follow-up question...

NOVAK: That was the rule.

MEEHAN: ... when he wouldn't say whether he supported the Dingell-Norwood bill...


... when he wouldn't say that no, I don't support the McCain- Feingold bill. He was afraid that someone would try to pin him in.

NOVAK: But they had -- they had...

MEEHAN: The fact -- and then he was all upset because the vice president walked a step toward him. Wait until he tries to negotiate peace with Yasser Arafat. Wait until he tries to negotiate with key world leaders.

SCARBOROUGH: You know, the bottom line...

MEEHAN: This is a -- this is a tough job -- this is a tough job, and George W. Bush demonstrated last night that he's not able to take on these challenges.

He can't...

SCARBOROUGH: You know, the thing is all you have to do is look at what the American people said again, that Al Gore is an unlikable man. Secondly, the thing that I think is so amusing is every time the Democrats have a Republican that they can't beat up they start saying he's a bungler or he's stupid. They're saying the same think about George W. Bush in 2000 that they said about Ronald Reagan 20 years ago...

NOVAK: Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH: ... the same exact thing, and the same thing they said about Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. PRESS: All right...

NOVAK: His syntax was bad.

PRESS: Joe...

SCARBOROUGH: His syntax was bad. He just played golf, didn't know what he was going. I like Press in L.A.

PRESS: Joe -- Joe Scarborough, let's stop the Bush...


Let's stop the Bush commercial long enough for me to ask you another question. You know, last night at points, I thought I was at Burger King there were so many whoppers that George Bush was throwing out there.

NOVAK: Oh my...

PRESS: Let me just give you -- let me give you one, what he said about a patients' bill of rights.


BUSH: I do support a national patients' bill of rights. As a matter of fact, I brought Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the state of Texas, to get a patients' bill of rights through.


PRESS: Now, I hate to introduce some facts into this debate, but the fact is the first year the Texas legislature passed a patients' bill of rights, Bush vetoed it. The second year he didn't support it. He opposed certain measures of it, and then he let it become law without his signature.

To say that he brought people together to pass that in Texas, congressman, is an outright lie to the American people. Right?

SCARBOROUGH: You know, just because -- you know, just because he didn't agree with every single thing that was in that bill that he let come into law doesn't mean that he didn't work together and bridge the sides together. I mean, you know, Al Gore is running across the stage saying, you must support Norwood-Dingell. And you talk about Burger King -- I mean, Norwood-Dingell sounds like some kid's prize that they pass out with a happy meal. I mean, he was again just proving he was above the fray.


SCARBOROUGH: Talking about the minutia of Washington, D.C. And, you know, people don't want to hear that. They want to know who is going to bring people together. And George W. Bush is a uniter. He's not a divider like Al Gore. PRESS: Wait. Congressman, shame on you. You know there's a difference between bills that are pending in the legislature. There is Norwood-Dingell, Dingell-Norwood, whatever you call it. And that's the bill that the senior groups support, the consumer groups support. Then there is the other bill that the big drug companies support.

Why wouldn't George Bush say last night, if he's for a patients' bill of rights...


PRESS: ... which one he supports? Why wouldn't he answer the question? And maybe you can answer the question.


PRESS: ... he support Norwood-Dingell?

SCARBOROUGH: What are you, filibustering? I mean, because -- shame on you. You know there are four different type bills like that. And I have a question for you: Why should the next president of the United States have legislation drafted by members that are in this Congress that aren't even going to be in control next Congress if the Democrats are this or -- I mean, nobody knows the makeup of the Congress.

But they do know this: Whoever is the next president is going to put together a patients' bill of rights. And George W. Bush supports a patients' bill of rights. And I'll guarantee, when he's elected president, a Republican Congress is going to pass it.


PRESS: Gentlemen, I may be 3,000 miles away, but I'm calling a time out because we're going to take a break. And when we come back: Did either Bush or Gore walk away from last night's debate with enough momentum to wrap it up in the next three weeks? We will get right back.

Don't forget, by the way, to join us in our CNN chat room. You can add another third or fourth dimension to tonight's CROSSFIRE show. Join us at And more CROSSFIRE continues -- coming right up.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

George Bush and Al Gore are back on the road today after last night's debate. And today, there are as many opinions as to who won, who lost and what's it all mean as there are pundits in Washington. And that's a lot. Tonight, we add to the cacophony with comments from Congressman Joe Scarborough, Republican of Florida, supporter of George W. Bush, and Congressman Martin Meehan, Democrat from Massachusetts, supporter of Al Gore. I'm in Los Angeles. And Bob is holding down the fort in Washington -- Robert.

NOVAK: Thanks, Bill.

Mary Meehan, speaking of whoppers -- whoppers -- I want you to -- I want you to take a look at this little piece of tape from the debate last night.


BUSH: When you total up all the federal spending he wants to do, it's the largest increase in federal spending in years. And there's just not going to be enough money.

GORE: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I'm so glad that I have the chance to knock that down.


NOVAK: Absolutely not. By the way, in knocking it all, all he did was attack the Bush tax cut.


MEEHAN: But he's right. As a percentage of the economy...

NOVAK: No. As -- I'm sure you're familiar with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget -- bipartisan.


NOVAK: Leon Panetta, Bill Clinton's budget director, Alice Rivlin, vice chairman of the Fed, they put out a report just this week, which they reported -- quote -- that Gore is proposing -- quote -- "the largest spending increases since LBJ and the Great Society" -- end quote -- that's a direct quote -- and that his spending is three times as large as Bush's.

Now, you can't have it both ways, Marty. If you're going to propose all this spending for everybody...

MEEHAN: By 2008...

NOVAK: ... you have got to admit you're spending a lot.

MEEHAN: By 2008, as a percentage of the economy, under the Gore plan, the federal spending will be the lowest as a percentage of the economy in 50 years. That's the truth. Al Gore and Bill Clinton have cut the number of federal employees. They have cut the deficit into a surplus.

NOVAK: It's three times Bush's. Do you agree with that?

MEEHAN: He has -- Al Gore has been -- he's a new Democrat. He's for smaller government. (CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH: Listen, once again, they haven't cut federal employees. What they've done is they've fired our men and women of the armed services.

MEEHAN: That's not true. Now, that's not even true.


SCARBOROUGH: Two-hundred and fifty-thousand, 250,000 defense jobs.

MEEHAN: Look at -- that isn't true. Those are bureaucrats at the Pentagon, not our troops. When it comes to reinventing government, what counts are bureaucrats. In every department other than the Justice Department, has cut the number of bureaucrats.

NOVAK: Now, another thing that Vice President Gore screams like a stuck pig about is when the -- when Governor Bush says that the Gore tax cut does not apply to how many Americans; 25 million Americans would not get a tax cut. Again, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget confirmed that. They just don't


NOVAK: Do you want to see the report?

MEEHAN: Bush is assuming -- nobody is going use the child care credits. Bush is assuming nobody is going to use -- send their kids to college and take advantage of that.


NOVAK: This is a bipartisan commission.

SCARBOROUGH: And wasn't it amazing last night when Al Gore was talking about taxes...

MEEHAN: You're a conservative, aren't you? You're a conservative. Pretty conservative.


SCARBOROUGH: He's a Democrat, actually.

MEEHAN: You don't come in here saying: I'm really for a patients' bill of rights.

NOVAK: Wait. Well, you're changing the subject.


MEEHAN: This guy is running away from what he is, because he knows he's outside of the mainstream.


SCARBOROUGH: If I can just say one thing really quickly, because it's telling here, is they asked Al Gore about his tax cut. And then he went to the lady and he said: Well, you know, it will apply if this, and if that, and if this.

PRESS: I want to get to that, Congressman.

SCARBOROUGH: He had about 20 "ifs" in there, which proved George Bush's point.

PRESS: I want to get that item of the tax cut, because I thought there was a real moment of truth last night. After a year of fudging on this issue, last night Jim Lehrer said to George Bush: Now, what about this, Governor Bush? The vice president says that most of your tax cut is going to go -- or a large percentage of it, 43 percent, whatever it is -- to the top 1 percent of the wealthiest people in this country.

And this was George Bush's answer -- finally.


BUSH: Of course it does. If you pay taxes, you're going to get a benefit. People who pay taxes will get tax relief.


PRESS: Of course it does. In other words, Bush admits his tax cut is welfare for the rich. Right, Joe?

SCARBOROUGH: No, absolutely not.

PRESS: You just heard it.

SCARBOROUGH: What George Bush said last night -- I did hear it. What George Bush said last night is all Americans get tax cuts. The top 1 percent that everybody talks about as these evil people who, by the way, create about 80 percent of the jobs out there and the economic growth and opportunity and hope, these people pay 40 percent of income taxes in America. So, of course, if everybody is getting tax cuts, they're going to get tax relief, too.

But the great thing is George W. Bush also takes care of people all across the economic scale, and he's not playing socialist games. He's not talking about income redistribution. He's talking about all Americans.

PRESS: Slow down just a second. These are not evil people. They're just people who have a lot of money and want even more so they can buy a new corvette like Bob Novak.

SCARBOROUGH: Actually, I don't think he targets Bob.

(CROSSTALK) PRESS: Just a second. Al Gore showed last night, when he looked around the crowd, and he said under Bush's tax cut plan, there would be more money going to one member of the 1 percent than everybody else in that entire town hall last night. Now why does that guy deserve all that money?

SCARBOROUGH: And again -- you know, and George W. Bush said it best at the convention when he said how sad it is that the party of Franklin Roosevelt has nothing to offer but fear itself. You know, Democrats like you have been offering nothing but class warfare and Mediscare. I mean, that's your entire campaign. We want to give tax relief to all Americans.


MEEHAN: People don't have to worry about fear. People have to worry about taking half of the tax cut and giving it to the wealthiest 1 percent. That's unfair.

PRESS: Come on.

NOVAK: All right, your debate is over and I declare it a draw. Thank you very much, Marty Meehan, Joe Scarborough. And we'll have another debate in closing comments between me and Mr. Press.


NOVAK: Bill, I am so disappointed in you that out in Los Angeles you've adopted the tactics of Joe McCarthy in taking a bit of George W. Bush's statement on his tax cut in the debate last night and clipping off where he said that the first -- the top 1 percent of the people will pay a greater share of income tax under his program than they do now, two percentage points more. But I give George W. Bush credit. He says that the rich should get some tax cut, just like the rest of the people.

This is not a Marxist society, Bill, even though you never understood that.

PRESS: Hey, you know what? Hey, you know what, Bob: I don't believe George Bush's fuzzy math for a second, and that's what it is.

Let me tell you, last night's debate was a slam dunk. I mean, it was a difference between an Oxford debater and a junior high school dropout. And I'll tell you, if Al Gore had done as well as in the first two debates as he did last night, this campaign would have been over a long time ago. And you know it.

NOVAK: I don't know that, and I -- what I do know is that when you come over the stage, when you bully, when you break the rules, when you try to get the last word, when you act like Bill Press, you're going to antagonize a lot of Americans.

PRESS: Bob, he was a gentleman compared to you. He was a gentleman compared to you.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE from Washington.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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