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NEWS FROM CNN

Michael J. Fox Addresses Stem Cell Issue With John Kerry; Dead Heat Between Bush and Kerry; Afghan Elections

Aired October 4, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Up first, politics. The presidential race an apparent dead heat right now. With two more debates on tap this week, two new polls concur that after the first debate last Thursday, President Bush's former lead over Senator John Kerry is gone.
Tomorrow, it's Cheney and Edwards in Cleveland. And on Friday, in St. Louis, Bush and Kerry for a second head-to-head contest.

This hour, President Bush's campaigning in Des Moines, Iowa. He is expected to sign into law the Working Family's Tax Relief Act. We'll have more on that coming up just in a few moments when we hear from our Elaine Quijano. She's on the scene for us.

John Kerry's schedule has him in three states today, beginning in New Hampshire. CNN's Frank Buckley is traveling with the Democratic nominee. Frank is joining us now live from Portsmouth.

Frank, what's the latest?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Senator Kerry is here in New Hampshire to talk about one of the hottest social issues, if not the hottest social issue of the election, stem cell research. Of course, President Bush was the first president to fund stem cell research, but he limited the number of lines of stem cells that could be used for such research. And that's created a whole host of critics.

Among them, Senator Kerry and the actor Michael J. Fox. The two of them appearing here together here in New Hampshire at a town hall- style event. Kerry and Fox both telling the audience that the president's decision to limit federal funding is hindering research that could lead to medical breakthroughs on diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and juvenile diabetes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: You'll remember in August of 2001, it was a big type of conversation in the media and around the country. And he felt like he had to make a decision about stem cell research and whether to fund it.

So he decided to allow it to go forward. But he so restricted the stem cell lines available to us, that it was kind of like he gave us a car and no gas, and congratulated himself for giving us the car.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Imagine if we had told researchers that research in polio, oh, you're giving people false hope. Imagine if we told those who were working to eradicate smallpox, oh, false hope.

It's unthinkable. But that is exactly what the administration is saying to scientists, to peoples whose lives are dedicated to trying to make these judgments about facts and who want to study Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injury, osteoporosis, so many different possibilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCKLEY: Now, as our viewers may know, Mr. Fox suffers from Parkinson's Disease and has been a very strong advocate for stem cell research. Senator Kerry says he will expand stem cell research if he is elected, and he would increase funding.

Now, Bush campaign officials say it's a dishonest attack to suggest that the president has limited federal funding when, in fact, there was no federal funding on this issue before the president made his announcement in 2001. They also say that the president has very clearly stated his ethical considerations with regard to this issue, that no federal funds should be used to encourage the destruction of human embryos. They say Senator Kerry has not been as clear about his -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In the remarks -- and I'm sure you paid close attention to what Senator Kerry said just now in New Hampshire -- Frank, did he also broaden the discussion to get into the issue of abortion rights for women, which he supports?

BUCKLEY: If he did, I did not hear that part of it, Wolf. He limited, at least what I heard the discussion, to this issue of stem cell research and talked about the medical breakthroughs that they believe could take place.

And the reason they chose to talk about this here in New Hampshire is they believe that they can make the argument to voters here in New Hampshire who have a reputation for being mavericks and independents, that this president has made the decision to limit federal funding to the existing lines based on ideological reasons. And that was the thrust of the discussion today from Senator Kerry here today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Frank Buckley reporting for us. Thanks, Frank, very much.

In a span of just days, an apparent dead heat. And now more debating beginning tomorrow night. In fact, in Cleveland, the pair of -- the pairing of Senator John Edwards versus Vice President Dick Cheney.

Joining us for some analysis, our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, thanks very much.

Before we get into the debates and all of that, the fact that John Kerry is today bringing up the whole issue of stem cell research, this was a big issue, as you remember, in Boston at the Democratic convention, when Ron Reagan, the son of the late president, spoke on this sensitive issue. Nancy Reagan has weighed in. Is this going to be a critical factor, an important issue in the election?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: I don't know how critical it's going to be. You could always say that if the election is as close as the polls sometimes say, then any factor is.

What this is supposed to be for the Democrats as a political issue is a reach to the middle, particularly to women. Women normally vote Democratic. Kerry has been having problems because they have been moving to Bush on national security or issues.

The idea here is, even if you are opposed to abortion, like Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, you should be for embryonic stem cell research because of all the good it can do in potentially curing so many diseases. That's basically what this is.

And, you know, Wolf, if I knew how to figure out how people are going to vote in a month, believe me, I would be investing money like mad and I'd probably have my own island. So I think that's what they're up to.

BLITZER: I know you can secretly do that, but you're just a shy kind of guy and you don't want to tell our viewers the fundamental fact, Jeff, on that issue.

GREENFIELD: That's it.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at the CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll which came out last night. Among likely voters, 49-49, one percent for Nader. Among registered voters, 49 for Bush., 47 for Kerry, one percent for Ralph Nader. Sampling error four percent.

So by all accounts, this is about as close as it gets.

GREENFIELD: Yes, but, you know, this is another reason, even though this is our poll, to put some distance between us and credulity. Remember a month ago the campaigns were saying that virtually everybody has decided there are no undecided voters? Well, our poll had Bush up, what, by 11 points about two or three weeks ago?

So, somehow between two and three weeks ago and this debate, 11 percent of the electorate or 5.5 percent has shifted. That's millions of people. And it's very difficult for me to imagine that that many minds would change in terms of who you're going to vote for by one debate.

All I'm saying about this is it strikes me -- what the numbers are telling us, beyond it's a close race, is some people's opinions on who they're going to vote for are subject to change fairly quickly. And perhaps if President Bush gives a good account of himself at the town hall in St. Louis on, what it is it, Friday night, millions of voters will change their minds for the next 72 hours. It's another reason to step back and treat these polls not with a grain of salt, but a few bushels of salt.

BLITZER: And you make a good point, but I just want to point out to our viewers it's not just the CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll which shows such a close contest., Right now, the "Newsweek" poll, a separate poll came out over the weekend, the "Los Angeles Times" poll.

GREENFIELD: Yes.

BLITZER: So there are several national polls which seem to be in tandem. And it's always amazing how they can all be so similar when they are talking to 1,000 people out of 250 or 300 million that live in the country.

GREENFIELD: Yes. This is alchemy.

And I noticed now that the conventional wisdom of this morning is, well, because the race is tight -- and this puts new focus on the vice presidential debate tomorrow. Not to be skeptical, I think it's going to be an intriguing debate, in some ways the most interesting because of the format and the very different personalities. But it's very hard to point in the past to a vice presidential debate, even one as one-sided as the famous Bentsen-Quayle, "You're no Jack Kennedy" debate of 1988, that really changed a lot of minds about who people were going to vote for, for president.

So while I think we're going to have a really interesting conflict tomorrow night, the idea that millions of voters are going to change their minds about their presidential choice based on a vice presidential debate is another one of those notions that I have difficulty agreeing with.

BLITZER: Well, despite that caveat, let's talk about the vice presidential debate in Cleveland.

GREENFIELD: Sure.

BLITZER: You and I will be there tomorrow night. We'll of course have live coverage here on CNN. Let's talk about Dick Cheney, first of all.

You remember four years ago when he debated Joe Lieberman. Larry King was the moderator of that debate. They were sitting around a table then, as they will be tomorrow night. Gwen Ifill of PBS will be the moderator and Cheney and Edwards will be sitting around the table.

Does the format, knowing the styles of Edwards and Cheney as you do, does the format that we know exists already on paper for tomorrow night give -- help either one of these candidates?

GREENFIELD: Yes, it helps Dick Cheney a whole lot. For one thing, Cheney's affect, you know, with an "A," is that of a guy who says very, very tough things in a very low-key conversational voice.

And when you are at a table, a foot away from your opponent, instead of at podiums, it's difficult to be indignant. It's difficult wring the changes, as they say.

That's what happened to Lieberman last time. He got into this very jovial exchange and couldn't -- couldn't make his case that Cheney was a hard, right, committed, angry conservative.

The other reason it helps Cheney is that John Edwards -- you remember covering him on the campaign trail -- John Edwards uses his body language and his hands. Kind of like the way Phil Hartman played unfrozen caveman lawyer on "Saturday Night Live."

You know, he's a very skilled performer in the best sense of that word because he is, in effect, giving an argument to a jury. You can't do that when you're seated at a table. And to some extent, I think it hampers the way Edwards likes to communicate. So in that sense, I think the format is a plus for Cheney.

BLITZER: And Cheney, as you point out, conservative, strong conservative, but he's a low-key talker to a certain degree. He's not a screamer, he's not a shouter. He is certainly not bombastic and he doesn't have the flare of John Edwards. So talk a little bit about that.

GREENFIELD: Well, I sometimes think of Dick Cheney as Yoda from the "Star Wars" movies, that he embodies a kind -- this very gravitas that he has. You know, weighty, actually, in every sense of the word, suggests that he has seen it all, he knows things that you don't know. And I think their hope on the Bush campaign is to portray Edwards as a kind of overeager undergraduate who will -- who will be -- show himself to be too intense and too -- too over the top for the job.

I don't think Edwards is likely to fall into that trap. But that's exactly what Cheney brings to it.

I mean, it's -- for a guy who does not have "charisma," he has a lot of appeal to the base of the Republican Party because they see him both substantively and in terms of what he embodies as a kind of -- a kind of rock solid guy who knows what he thinks, is a grownup about stuff, and really understands the dangers of the United States.

So he can say things like -- or imply that if John Kerry is elected president that terrorists will be happy. And it doesn't sound quite as over the top as if, say, Zell Miller said it. I think that's an interesting contrast to put on the table.

BLITZER: I think that's a good point.

Finally, let's talk about Friday night in St. Louis. There will be a town hall-type setting that Charlie Gibson of ABC News will be moderating, the president and the Democratic candidate.

I heard Ken Mehlman earlier this morning on television suggest -- he's the campaign manager for the Bush-Cheney campaign, that the president, his advisors have gone back and looked at the videotape from Miami, the University of Miami. They are studying it to see if he can improve his game a little bit for Friday night. If they look at that tape, what advice should these guys be telling the president?

GREENFIELD: They're going to tell him -- I'm pretty sure they're going to tell him to remember the camera is pointed at him at all times and to not treat a tough question or comment by the opposition as an annoying intrusion on his life. You know, we saw kind of a throwback at that debate to the President Bush that was confronting Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" and at that rather disastrous press conference earlier this year.

So I'm sure they're going to say, look, you've got ordinary folks in this audience, you're very good at relating to them. We want to see the President Bush that people have come to like, solid but not exasperated. A bit of humor wouldn't hurt.

And I do think the fact that it's a town meeting rather than a formal debate with podiums is probably something that the Bush campaign, at least, thinks will help. And I guess they are hoping that if he comes across that way, that the judgment about him will be as positive as it was negative, because he really did look like he was on his way to getting root canal at some moments in that debate.

BLITZER: That's similar to the kind of advice Jeff Greenfield often gives me. "A little humor," he says, "Wolf, couldn't hurt as well?" Jeff, I take your advice. I'm going to try to have a little humor in our coverage from now on. Jeff Greenfield.

GREENFIELD: Well, I've got some great Jackie Mason lines for you, Wolf. But I don't think we want to put them on the air.

BLITZER: Not today at least.

GREENFIELD: OK.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield will be with us, and our entire team, in Cleveland tomorrow, Friday night, in St. Louis.

Jeff, thanks very much.

CNN's Elaine Quijano is reporting from Des Moines, Iowa. That's where the president is about to sign into law legislation.

Elaine, set the scene for us.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon to you, Wolf.

We are actually just a short distance from where the president is about ready to sign that bill that you mentioned. We are about 20 minutes or so away from where the president is.

But the president choosing as his backdrop today to sign this legislation not the White House, but the key battleground state here of Iowa. Now, specifically, obviously the president turning his attention to domestic issues here in Iowa, getting ready to extend -- to sign this bill which would extend this popular 2003 tax cut, legislation extending the $1,000 per child tax credit for another five years. And also keeping the marriage penalty in place.

Now, tax relief, of course, is a key component of the president's domestic agenda, his economic agenda. We see this over and over from the president on the campaign trail, talking about how the best way he feels to help the economy is to allow individuals, as well as small business owners, to keep -- keep more of their money rather than having to turn it over to their government.

Now, to reinforce the president's message on tax relief, the Bush-Cheney campaign is out with a new ad today. It is called "Thinking Mom." And it accuses John Kerry and others in Congress of voting to raise taxes 350 times.

Now, as you might expect, the Kerry camp disputes that. They say 69 of those votes cited by the campaign were actually to lower taxes. And they say that the president's tax cuts will benefit the rich, and they say John Kerry's tax cut plan would benefit more working families.

Now, Iowa, I mentioned, a key battleground state. The president's 17th visit here since taking office.

Now, no GOP candidate for president has actually won in Iowa since 1984. The stakes here are quite high.

And one other note we want to mention to you, Wolf, a little bit of a change in the topic of conversation that the president will be focusing on, on Wednesday. He was to talk about health care in Pennsylvania. Now we understand from White House spokesman Scott McClellan, just a short time ago telling reporters that the president will deliver what they're calling a significant speech, focusing on two issues they feel are most important to the American people. And that -- those issues are the war on terrorism and the economy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano in Des Moines, covering the president. Elaine, thanks very much.

Elections happening elsewhere around the world as well. Five days and counting to an historic event in Afghanistan on Saturday.

Its citizens will have the chance to elect a leader directly. Millions of voters could, in fact, turn out. Our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, already in Kabul. She is joining us now live to help us better understand what is going on -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the stakes here for the Bush administration are very high. Even before we arrived, officials told us that it is vital that the elections here, that the future of Afghanistan is a success, given the continued carnage in Iraq and the possibility of elections there in January. So a lot of attention by the U.S. administration and the international community being put on the Saturday presidential elections here. Hamid Karzai, who's been first the interim and now the transitional Iraqi president, is the favorite to win. And he is, of course, the candidate who is backed by the United States and by most of the international community. He is a moderate who talks the same kind of language that the western countries do, and who wants to see Afghanistan solidly inside the community of nations.

He is the best known. He has the most money, the most support, and the most organization. And it is considered likely that he will garner most of the votes. However, with 17 opponents, it is not clear that in the first round on Saturday he will do as much -- as well as possible to avoid a run-off.

Now, in terms of registering voters, there are about 27 million people in this country. And 10 million or so have been registered to vote.

That is a lot more than people here expected. And it has been called a success, this registration drive.

Women have also been registered to vote. About 41 percent we are told by the U.N. and the commissions that they have sent out, 41 percent of those registered are women.

One of the candidates who is running for president is a woman. Her name is Masooda Jalal, and we talked to her today. It is the first time ever a woman has run for president in this country. And although her candidacy is a long shot, she believes that just the fact that she is running -- and of course she does believe she'll win, she tells us -- but the fact that she is running is important. And she says her candidacy is about change and about the new future of Afghanistan.

The thing is, of course, there is a great deal of violence and disruption, mostly in the south and southeast of this country. A lack of security over the past several years since the fall of the Taliban has enabled a resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda remnants and elements to surface over the last couple of years in the south and southeast. And they are doing all they can to oppose the election, and something like 12 election workers have been killed in the run-up to Saturday's voting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very briefly, Christiane, to avoid a run-off, what percentage would Hamid Karzai need to win outright on Saturday?

AMANPOUR: I think it's 51 percent he needs to win outright.

BLITZER: Christian Amanpour will be with us throughout the week, leading up to the elections Saturday in Afghanistan. Very important elections.

Christiane, thanks very much for setting the stage. We'll check back with you obviously throughout the week.

And speaking of elections, they are also set for Iraq, but in January, the end of January specifically, even though security could still be a huge issue at that time, and almost certainly will be. Today, more bloody attacks and more U.S. troops killed.

CNN's Brent Sadler is on the front lines for us. He's joining us once again live from Baghdad -- Brent.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf.

Bombers again aimed for familiar targets this day. The first blast aimed for recruits for the Iraqi National Guard.

Now, the numbers of people killed there put it around 15. This blast just outside one of the entrances to the Green Zone. That is the heavily-fortified area where the U.S. and British embassies are located. It happened near a U.S. military checkpoint, but there were no casualties at that location neither among U.S. forces nor any multinational forces.

In the second blast that took place just a short distance from our hotel, a few hundred yards away, a terrific blast we heard earlier this day. And the bombers there were using a car bomb to attack a convoy, small convoy of two black GMC vehicles of the type used either by western security personnel or western contractors.

We have no indication of any embassy personnel or any military personnel in the convoy, but certainly again there were deaths and injuries there. Again, Iraqis bearing the brunt of those deaths and injuries.

However, Wolf, the U.S. military is confirming this day the deaths of two more task force American soldiers in Baghdad killed Sunday. They are not giving details of how or precisely where it happened. But two U.S. soldiers killed as a result of small arms fire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brent Sadler in Baghdad, where the situation remains extremely bloody. Thanks, Brent, very much for that report.

Up next, we'll take a look ahead to the next presidential debate right here in the United States. Round two Friday night in St. Louis.

A vice presidential debate coming up tomorrow night in Cleveland, Ohio. I'll speak with key aides from both sides. Jennifer Millerwise from the Bush-Cheney camp, Chad Clanton from the Kerry-Edwards campaign, they'll join us.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You are looking at a live picture of a very, very happy man. That would be Brian Binnie, the pilot on SpaceShipOne.

We're going to hear all about what happened on SpaceShipOne. The private rocket once again punched through Earth's atmosphere, capturing lots of money in the process. All in the name of space tourism and science, shall we say.

Our space correspondent, Miles O'Brien, is joining us now live from his vantage point in the Mojave Desert.

This was also very, very exciting, Miles. But tell our viewers who may not be paying close attention to this as you are what has happened on this day.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Let's just bring you up to date, Wolf.

A little bit of space history. Actually, a lot of space history has occurred out here in the high desert of Mojave. And in a fitting place.

This is an historic location -- this is an historic location where many, many records have fallen. The speed of sound broken in 1947. X-15 flew to 315,000 feet in the early 1960s.

Today, that particular record got broken. And it happened with the most unlikely of teams, a small group of people funded by -- to the tune of $25 million. Sure that's no -- that's some money, but not anything compared to what NASA spends on a typical shuttle launch, some $500 million-plus.

The team lead by aviation legend Burt Rutan, the builder and designer of SpaceShipOne, piloted by Brian Binnie, 51 years old, formerly a Navy test pilot. Flew to space, and having been carried to an altitude of about 50,000 feet by White Knight, its mother ship.

At 50,000 feet, the small SpaceShipOne was dropped off of White Knight. The rocket was lit about three seconds later, and off he went on a screaming wild straight up elevator ride to space, and an altitude of 368,000 feet. Well beyond the official line to space of 328,000 feet, and enough to put $10 million in the bank for this team, because they have done it.

The second time they have done it in five days. Well within two weeks demanded by the Ansari X Prize.

As you take a look at pictures of the champagne celebration behind me there, the team had a chance to celebrate after Brian Binnie came back to Earth about an hour after accomplishing his feat. The $10 million check hasn't been cut just yet. That will happen a little bit later at a ceremony in St. Louis.

The Ansari X Prize was inspired by the Spirit of St. Louis, Charles Lindbergh's flight. He flew to Paris for a $25,000 prize, the Orteig Prize.

A lot of people don't remember that. And that is what inspired Peter Diamandis to come up with this idea almost 10 years ago.

Now, Peter Diamandis joins us now.

It's got to be a day filled with emotion for you.

PETER DIAMANDIS, FOUNDER, ANSARI X PRIZE: Oh, this is fantastic. This is an eight-year adventure that myself and my team have been on. And today, to see it won with such grace and ease and so beautiful a flight is fantastic.

O'BRIEN: Beautiful. It wasn't the breathtaking flight in the sense we were all pretty nervous when we saw those rolls on Wednesday, 29 rolls as Mike Melvill made that first flight. This time it almost looked matter of fact.

DIAMANDIS: Well, you know, here we have a spaceship that can literally fit in your two-car garage, that has gone up into space last week with no problems whatsoever. Even with the rolls, Burt said, you know, those were no issues.

The vehicle was safe, the pilot was safe the entire time. He just chose not to stop it and land it. And could have flown again literally a day or two later. We have finally the beginning of the personal spaceflight revolution.

O'BRIEN: All right. I'm hoping you are on a live shot right now. I cannot see CNN program right now.

But right behind us is Brian Binnie. Let's try to get a shot of him, if you can, as he goes by.

SpaceShipOne, it's (INAUDIBLE). That's for 328,000 feet, as he takes his victory lap there.

Stars and Stripes trailing behind him as he stands on top of the vehicle, going beyond the thousands of people here at the Mojave now Spaceport.

What's next -- the X Prize is over. There are other teams out there. What do they do, first of all?

DIAMANDIS: Absolutely. We are so excited.

It's not sufficient to have a single vehicle flying. We really need to have a multitude of vehicles competing to bring the price down so we can all fly. Let's get the price down to $25,000, $30,000 and to bring the reliability up.

So we have announced the X Prize Cup, which is going to be the follow-on. The state of New Mexico has bid over $10 million and won this. And starting in the summer of 2006, Miles, we're going to be having a competition.

We'll bring all the spaceships together. Instead of one flight, like we saw today, imagine four, five, six flights a day, 50 flights over 10 days into space.

O'BRIEN: All right. Now, that sounds like an air show on steroids, I should say. Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Cup, congratulations. Get your checkbook ready for that $10 million check you've got to write on November 6 in St. Louis.

We will be there to see that one for sure, as this team accepts the $10 million prize and perhaps a whole new world of commercial access, of tourists, of you and I, Wolf, going to space, might have begun on this very day. We'll see.

BLITZER: All right. Miles O'Brien, a fascinating day, indeed. An historic day by all accounts.

Miles on the scene for us in the Mojave Desert. Miles, thank you very, very much.

Want to go back to presidential politics right now. The president is speaking in Des Moines, speaking about tax cuts, one of his favorite subjects. Let's listen in briefly.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: And under all the tax relief we passed, they saved about $2,800 last year.

With this extra money they bought a wood burning stove to reduce their home heating costs. They made a decision for their family. They also made home repairs and improvements. They took the family on a vacation to Minnesota.

Next year when you get your check, you may want to come to Texas.

(APPLAUSE)

Without the tax bill I'm signing today, the Hinzes (ph) would have paid $1,200 more in federal taxes next year. Think about that. This is a family of four working hard to raise their kids and money would have been going out of their pocket.

I believe they can spend a that $1,200 better than the federal government can.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: This legislation will have good effects throughout the economy. The tax relief we passed since 2001 has helped our economy overcome a lot of challenges: a stock market decline, a recession, terrorist attacks and war.

By extending key portions of that tax relief, we will leave close to $50 billion next year in the hands of the people who earned it. And that money will help keep the economy moving forward and result in even more new jobs for American workers.

This act of Congress is essential, but it's only a start. Over the next few years if we fail to take further action, the tax relief will expire and federal income taxes will go up for every American who pays them.

For the sake of our families and small businesses and farmers, investors and seniors, we need to make all the tax relief permanent. We need to make sure the death tax doesn't come back to life.

(APPLAUSE) We need to keep the tax relief we enacted for investors and small businesses. We need to reform the tax code to make it simpler, easier to understand and pro-growth.

To keep the economy going, we need to reduce the burden of regulation on small businesses. To keep our economy growing, we need to end the junk lawsuits that keep entrepreneurs from creating new jobs. To keep the economy growing, we need an energy plan to make sure America is less dependent on foreign sources of energy by using alternative uses of energy, like ethanol and biodiesel.

(APPLAUSE)

We need to open up foreign markets for our products and continue to ensure that other countries play by the rules. We need spending discipline in our nation's capital.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: We need to open up foreign markets for our products and continually ensure that other countries play by the rules. We need spending discipline in our nation's capital.

(APPLAUSE)

I look forward to working with the Congress to achieve all these goals. When we keep taxes low and trust our American families with their own money, they spend it far more wisely than we can. And when they do, they make the American company stronger.

I appreciate the members of Congress who are here today. I wish they could come up and join me.

In the great city of Des Moines, Iowa, I sign into law the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: And so now the president of the United States will sign that bill into law, keeping in place several provisions of the tax code that already have been in place, but are being extended as promised. The president signing that legislation into law. You are looking at that live picture now as the president does so.

Earlier today, we brought to our viewers some extensive remarks from the Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry as well while he was speaking in New Hampshire. Now the president speaking in Des Moines. Specifically what he's doing, the legislation that he is now signed into law and has become the law of the land will provide a little bit more tax relief for married couples, keeping in place that $1,000 child tax credit and the expanded what's called 10 percent tax bracket.

Clearly the president happy to do so. Announced on Friday -- Saturday's radio address, that he would do it and now he used the occasion of a campaign appearance in Des Moines, Iowa, Iowa being a key battleground state, to go ahead and sign this legislation into law.

We're going to continue to cover politics obviously, not only this hour, but throughout the days and weeks to come before November 2nd.

Kerry, Cheney, Edwards, all of them, the presidential and vice presidential contenders square off in the key debates coming up this week. The president and his Democratic challenger in St. Louis, Friday night. The vice president and his Democratic challenger in Cleveland tomorrow night.

We're going to look ahead. What is expected in the debates? what has already happened, and what could be happening in the days to come?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. It's the first Monday in October. That means it's the traditional start of the U.S. Supreme Court term. Inside the building, the nine justices got down to work. Among the many actions they let stand a lower court ruling that telemarketers free speech rights are not -- repeat, not -- being violated by the national do-not-call list. And the justices will also hear arguments today on the issue of federal sentencing guidelines. In 1984, congress mandated sentencing rules, but they were thrown into confusion last year when the high court considered unconstitutional a similar state law.

Back to politics right now, a huge political week, this week, next week, every week is going to be huge. The vice presidential debate tomorrow night in Cleveland. The second presidential debate Friday night in St. Louis. New polls showing the race right now a dead heat.

Now with some insider views on the polls, the politicians, all of the above, both -- two guests from two campaigns. Jennifer Millerwise is the deputy communications director for regional media for Bush/Cheney '04. Chad Clanton is the senior advisor for communications for Kerry/Edwards -- that would be the Kerry/Edwards campaign.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Are you disappointed the poll numbers showing this race now back to being a dead heat?

JENNIFER MILLERWISE, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: I don't think it's much of a surprise. One thing we agreed on, we said this would be a tight race all the way down, especially the closer we get to Election Day. We were saying that when we were way up and we were saying that when we were down this summer.

BLITZER: But before this first debate at the University of Miami, there were some Republicans saying the president could knock this guy out right away with a strong performance.

MILLERWISE: I don't think those Republicans were at the campaign or the White House. You always have the pundits out there saying things. We always said it would be close. We've really prepared strategically our entire campaign around it being this close, and as close as 2000.

CHAD CLANTON, KERRY-EDWARDS CAMPAIGN: Yes, I'll say a word about polls. This is one thing Jennifer and I do agree about it, that it's going to be a tight race. The Kerry campaign didn't wring their hands when the polls were down and we're not going to high five and towel snap when we are up.

BLITZER: You're not up, but it could be a tie.

CLANTON: It will be a tight race. But I will say this I am so confident in John Kerry, I am so proud of him, and you know, we'll put it to a test here. I'm willing to bet Jennifer Millerwise, right here on your program, dinner that John Kerry will be the next president. And this is a real test to see how confident we are in our two candidates ability here. What do you say?

BLITZER: But he's not saying the restaurant, Jennifer.

MILLERWISE: As much as Chad may want to go to dinner with me...

BLITZER: He may be anxious to have a dinner with you.

MILLERWISE: I think that may be what it is. I'm willing to take him up on that, because I'm confident that I won't have to go to dinner with Chad, because the fact is, I think what the American people saw is a really good debater in John Kerry. They saw someone who was able to -- who's been debating since college. He was a college champion. He did it as a prosecutor, did it in the United States Senate. And they saw was a plain-spoken president who wears his heart on his sleeve and says what he means, does what he says...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He may have had bad night, but let's show you some polls numbers from the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. Better job as far as the issue of terrorism is concerned. Who would do a better job on the issue of terrorism? Look at this, the president 56 percent. Kerry, 39 percent. Look, still very strong, strongly in favor of the president, albeit not as strong as it was a few weeks ago at the end of September.

CLANTON: Yes, I think the more important thing to look at in that number is how much it has moved, how people see John Kerry's plan not only to clean up the mess in Iraq and offer a fresh start, but to refocus our attention on the war on terror. George Bush...

BLITZER: But the president still has a decisive majority on this issue.

CLANTON: Sure, and we have 30 days to go. And I think that as people see John Kerry's plan in Iraq and compare it to George Bush, who is really offering some of the more failed policy in Iraq, and particularly how that's hurting us here at home. You know, we're not stronger here at home because of George W. Bush -- wages down, jobs down. And now we have the president advocating an economic plan which wants more tax cuts for the richest people in the country.

MILLERWISE: Wolf, you know what I think what you saw in those polls and I think what's really is that on all issues that really mattered -- who's the stronger leader? Who can win the war on terror? And Who shares those values? Voters choose President Bush overwhelmingly and across the board over John Kerry. And I think that's what matters on Election Day. And as we go forward and talk about...

BLITZER: The commander in chief, we have another number on the commander in chief, our own CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll: Who do you trust more as commander in chief. The president gets 50 percent. Kerry gets 45 percent. But only a couple weeks earlier, the president was at 56 percent compared to Kerry's 40 percent. That has narrowed, Jennifer.

MILLERWISE: Well, again, I think poll are going to move around, but your is still showing that on the issues that matter they still believe the president is the right man for the job.

And I think you see that for a good reason. You know what you saw in the debates the other day, that John Kerry has been calling for things like a global test, a global test that America has to take before it defends itself, you know what, we totally disagree with that. This president will never check with foreign leaders before he makes a final decision.

BLITZER: I was waiting for one of you to bring up that global test quote. And we have the exact sound bite. It's excerpt from the debate. I'm going to play it for viewers right now. You can hear both parts of precisely what John Kerry said at the University of Miami.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: The president always has the right and always has had the right for preemptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War, and it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control.

No president through all of American history has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when do you it, Jim, you've got to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test, where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, I'm going to let both of you thrash this out, the global test, what exactly he meant, how much was he giving away to the international community in terms of preemptive strikes.

But right now there may be, may be, may be, and I'm saying looking at this live pictures from Mount St. Helens, another eruption. You are seeing steam coming out of there. You're seeing smoke coming out of Mount St. -- there's some activity going on atop Mount St. Helens in Washington State right now. We've known since Saturday that when they raised the alert level on Mount St. Helens that some sort of eruption, they say, the experts say, was imminent, they were expecting something to occur within 24 hours. It's now been almost 48 hours since they issued that heightened alert, but right now we're watching some activity unfolding at Mount St. Helens right now.

We have a reporter on the scene, CNN's Ted Rowlands is there.

Ted, tell our viewers what's different, these live pictures we're seeing now, as opposed to, shall we say, five or 10 minutes ago when we didn't see this smoke.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're seeing an emission, an eruption of some type here at Mount St. Helens. It may be another steam release, which we saw on Friday. That release was an extensive one, which reached up to 10,000 feet into the air. This has not rivaled that in terms of the intensity as of yet, but it is just starting literally about two minutes ago. We noticed a small amount of steam coming from the top of the mountain. It is gradually getting larger.

And seismologists and geologists have told us that there's been earthquake activity up in the crater area of the volcano during the last few hours, which has been increasing in intensity. So, literally, there was a news conference going on in nearby Vancouver, Washington here when this started, and they stopped to say that something is happening here. And whether or not this is it, if you will, or this is another release of pressure, we'll have to wait and see, but definitely, Mount St. Helens is erupting in some fashion as we watch it.

BLITZER: When we say it's a magnitude 3 right now, Ted, tell viewers who are not familiar with the different scales, the alert status involving volcanoes, precisely what that means.

ROWLANDS: Well, that is the highest level of alert which was issued on Saturday after they realized that there was fresh magma, or underground lava, introduced into the volcanic system, and that that was churning and creating pressure gases. What that meant that was that an eruption was eminent. They weren't sure when or how intense.

But since Saturday, we've been under this level three. An 8-mile radius around St. Helens has been completely cleared out by -- for the public. And we are about nine miles away from the mountain right now; though it seems like we're a lot closer, we're actually nine miles away.

They don't believe that this ash, volcanic ash, if it is indeed mixed in with the steam, it looks like it is a little darker, so there will be some ash here. They don't believe it is hazardous, necessarily depending on the intensity of the actual eruption. So we'll have to wait and just sort of watch this unfold, see what we're up against, if you will. Then we're watching the wind pattern as well to see where any eruption material goes. That would be a problem with health concerns. The one thing I'm sure that has already been enacted is a call to the FAA, because ash does not mix with jet engines. They will have to clear the airspace. They did it on Friday. I'm sure that has already been done.

BLITZER: Ted, there's a news conference that's under way. I want to continue to show viewers these live pictures from Mount St. Helens. But the U.S. Geological Survey is having news conference right now. Let's listen in to see what they're saying, because they might be explaining what's going on, but we'll continue to show our viewers these live pictures.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they can see the cloud, and they'll be able to tell, at least qualitatively, how much ash is in it, and be able to tell the direction of drift and the rate at which it is drifting.

QUESTION: Can you estimate the height there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it is the height -- it looks like it's the height above the rim of the mountain, that's about, what, maybe 3,000, 4,000 feet -- 2,000, 3,000 feet maybe, something like that. That's only a guess. I'm sure that your news helicopter and our helicopter and everybody is up there getting an estimate of it. And then it will be interesting how long this goes on. You know, the one on Friday went on for about 20, 24 minutes or so. Yes, well, this is certainly more emission than was described last night from (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: Is this at all indicative of what has been classified over the years as a dome-building eruption? Is this something you would see in one of those?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. This isn't building the dome, but this could be associated with it. If dome building requires intrusion of hot material into that dome, you know, it's going to be heating up the ground water substantially, and it looks like this is beginning to -- see, he's zooming out, so it is -- the progressive puffs are getting up a bit further.

QUESTION: Could something like this turn into what you are talking about, a bigger eruption?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's possible. I think what we're seen, though, is that this may play out for, 10, 20 minutes and then dissipate. I think my estimate of the height above the crater rim was too much. The top of that might be approaching 10,000 feet.

QUESTION: It sounds like you are still expecting or forecasting something bigger than this. What signs would lead up to that? What are you looking for before that happens? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, truthfully, we could go into a more substantial event than that, essentially without warning. We're at a high level of unrest, and that's why we are at this high alert level. That we don't really -- we can't really, you know -- I said that we can't use the term predict. Prediction is way too strong a term.

You know, we're forecasting a period of time, say in the hours to days, of what we think is likely. And this is the most likely kind of event. But we can't rule out that we could move to a more substantial event on very short notice.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is this an eruption or explosion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a matter of semantics. It's stuff that's coming out of the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). Could you give your summary of what we are looking at with this eruption?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, hit looks like -- I don't know, what has it been now, five minutes ago or so, the news crews noticed that a steam emission was beginning. And over that period of time, it looks like several -- there's been several rushes of steam and perhaps with some ash have come out of that. No doubt it has come out of that vent behind the lava dome.

And it's continuing -- you notice that the cloud will rise up with a more energetic pulse and then it'll drift off. And a lot of the steam just evaporates back into the atmosphere, and then you will see another surge come up.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) about the likelihood of magma moving underground now in conjunction with this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this is a symptom that magma is moving around at depth and is coming up to shallow levels and is heating the ground water in the volcano to create this steam.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Last week, one of the geologists described the magma source as opposed to a big pool beneath the crater (INAUDIBLE) that's kind of stopped and hardened mass (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. That cork has to get weakened, and this is the process by which that is occurring. So, each one of these presumably weakens that plug a little bit more, by, you know, breaking rock and throwing material out of the vent.

And hopefully the -- after the -- this clears away, our crews will get a view of the crater, and the crater will probably enlarge a bit.

Well, it's -- whether it's good or bad, it's what's happening. And...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, what does it mean to (INAUDIBLE)? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. It's -- you know, we have -- we know from that deformation behind the dome, where there's an area of the dome and underneath the glacier and pushing up the glacier that's been going on for several days, that there is some piston-like mass of old dome rock that is being moved upward.

And something is pushing that. And presumably that is this magma mass that is of unknown gas content and unknown potential for developing an explosive eruption. But this is making it a whole lot easier for that process to occur.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When you are looking at something like this, do you still scientifically rule out something close to as big as 1980?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, remember that the 1980 events, the spectacular 1980 events, the great landslide from the volcano in that first explosion that swept out to the north and knocked down all the trees. That required that the mountain be, you know, a steep edifice. that the magma could come up into it, tear the volcano apart, generate the landslide, unload the magma, start the explosion.

So, that process isn't possible right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to have silence on the phones bridge or we're going to have to cut it off. If you're going to do your own news, you're going to have to do it somewhere else.

We can't talk about crime registry. Whoever's got it on is interrupting it for everyone else. We cannot have you going live over the phone bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What you are seeing right now is this...

BLITZER: All right. So, we are listening to a news conference from the representative from the U.S. Geological Survey reporting information on this activity that is going on right now atop Mount St. Helens in southern Washington State along the border with Oregon.

He just said -- unclear whether it's an eruption or an explosion. Not sure that makes much of a difference -- in his words, stuff is coming out of the ground, putting it mildly.

Ted Rowlands is watching all of this for us. We see the picture on television, Ted, but you're there in person about nine miles or so from the actual site. What are you seeing -- the activity?

ROWLANDS: Well, it's a fantastic site. You can see billows of this steam, and it seems as though there is definitely some ash mixed in with it because of the darker areas. Of course, the sunlight is coming from one direction, which is leaving some shade, as well. They'll have to go and test that to see how much actual ash is in there.

But as you heard, the geologists say that this is obviously a relief of pressure from the volcano. And the big sort of measurement here will be how long in terms of a duration this emission continues. This eruption, because that's what it is -- if it continues for a great length of time or if this, like on Friday, is going to be about a 20-minute event.

On Friday, of course, the billowing cloud was more direct up, and it went in excess of 10,000 feet. They estimated that -- about five minutes ago it was less than that, however it must be approaching that level. And some folks on the ground here say this seems to be a more intense emission than the one on Friday. Those here that saw the one on Friday say there is more to this cloud.

So, we will have to wait and see how long this transpires. But really, it is an amazing site to see this natural phenomenon take place before our eyes here on Mount St. Helens.

BLITZER: Does it seem to be getting more intense, or dissipating a little bit? Because we heard the geologists say, Ted, that this could last for 10, 20 minutes and then begin to dissipate. Do we see any reduction in activity?

ROWLANDS: Doesn't seem to be dissipating. It is a slow process. It reminds me of a forest fire, if you were far -- you know,about nine miles from a forest fire and you had this vantage point, it sort of has the same characteristics in that there is a core that is pushing it.

Of course, in a forest fire, that's the flames. In this situation, it is this magma core that is building inside the volcanic neck and pushing the steam and presumably ash out of the volcano. But it doesn't look like it's losing the intensity at the core where it's pushing it out. You can see it billowing continuously out of the center of the volcano.

So, if it is going to dissipate, it hasn't shown any signs, at least from a layman's point of view nine miles away, of doing so just yet.

BLITZER: And let us know about this no-fly zone over Mount St. Helens. Is that in effect right now, given the problems that the ash could have for engines, whether helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft? Is that in place already that no helicopters or planes can fly over this area, Ted?

ROWLANDS: Yeah, well, it's restricted right now, and it has been since Friday. Whether or not that will be elevated, and I'm sure they're in discussions with the FAA and monitoring the situation.

The problem is that this ash isn't the same type of ash you would think about in a forest fire where it's flaky. This ash has consistency to it. It has little rocks and would wreak havoc on a jet engine, per se. So, they want to do everything they can to make sure that there is absolutely no interaction between this ash and any aircraft, because it could cause real problems.

BLITZER: We're going to stay on this live picture, Ted. Stay with us. We're going to continue our live coverage of what's happening atop Mount St. Helens right now. We're not going anywhere, except for me. I'll be back later today, every weekday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Politics and late-night humor: Will campaign jokes impact voters? We'll take a closer look at that later today.

I want to thank Jennifer Millerwise, Chad Clanton from both campaigns for sticking around with us. We'll, of course, have them back in the days and weeks to come.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Kyra Phillips is going to pick up our coverage right now -- Kyra?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf. Thank you so much.

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