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Vice Presidential Showdown

Aired October 5, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: four weeks and counting. The battle for the White House focuses on the running mates. Tonight, Dick Cheney and John Edwards face off in their only debate.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The thing about Senator Kerry with respect to these issues, especially the war on terror in Iraq, is that there's not much he can say that doesn't contradict things he's already said.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John Kerry's message was clear and it was unmistakable. So we hope, with a little luck and me doing my job, that that same message will come through loud and clear tonight.

ANNOUNCER: Will tonight's debate have any impact on the choice voters will make in the race for president? And which side has the most to lose?



ANNOUNCER: Live from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Paul Begala and, sitting in on the right, a Republican strategist Joe Watkins.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hey, gang. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

We're here in Cleveland, Ohio, just outside the beautiful Cleveland Museum of Art, where, just hours away from now, the gloves are coming off. Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards will go face to face, toe to toe, jaw to jaw. Well, you pick your body part metaphor. It will be their first and only debate of this election season.

And sitting in on the right for the rapidly recuperating Bob Novak, Republican strategist, radio talk show host Joe Watkins.

Joe, welcome to the CROSSFIRE.

JOE WATKINS, GUEST HOST: Well, thanks so much, Paul. It's great to be here. BEGALA: Thanks. This will be a lot of fun.

We will debate the V.P. showdown just ahead. But let's start, as we always do, with the best political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Well, before President Bush invaded Iraq, then Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki warned that Mr. Bush did not have enough troops to occupy and pacify the country after Saddam fell. General Shinseki was attacked, insulted, publicly ridiculed by the professors and pinheads that Mr. Bush had put in charge of the Pentagon. They didn't care that General Shinseki is a highly decorated combat veteran who just might know a little more than warfare than desk jockeys like Paul Wolfowitz.

And never mind the fact that General Shinseki actually commanded the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, where we didn't lose a single soldier. Now even Mr. Bush's handpicked viceroy of Iraq, Paul Bremer, admits that General Shinseki was right all along and President Bush was wrong, tragically wrong.

Ambassador Bremer says that Mr. Bush's decision to ignore General Shinseki's advice led to -- quote -- "an atmosphere of lawlessness" -- unquote. Bremer bluntly concludes that Mr. Bush blew it, saying -- quote -- "We never had enough troops on the ground" -- unquote. If only President Bush were as honest.


BEGALA: Joe, it's a tragedy.

WATKINS: Well, Paul, we all know that everybody is entitled to their opinion. And certainly Ambassador Bremer is entitled to his opinion. Of course, he wasn't put there to give his opinion about the number of troops that we should have on the ground.

The president has always said that he would listen to his commanders on the ground, and that's exactly what he has done.


BEGALA: He should have listened to the Army chief of staff, though. Go ahead.

WATKINS: Well, he's always said he would listen to his commanders on the ground. And, anyway, if John Kerry was so darn concerned by the number of troops on the ground, then why didn't he support -- vote to support the troops on the ground by supporting that $87 billion?


BEGALA: He did support it. He just didn't want to add to the deficit.

WATKINS: Well, when he took office, President Bush vowed to bring tax relief to Americans. And that's a promise he's keeping, he's certainly keeping.

Yesterday, in Des Moines, Iowa, the president signed his fourth tax cut measure in four years. The Working Families Tax Relief Act is a measure that extends for another five years some of the tax cuts passed earlier in the president's term earlier. Overall, 94 million Americans will have a lower tax bill next year, including 70 million women and 38 million families with children.

John Kerry markets himself as a champion of the middle class. But how can he do that with a straight face when he plans to raise taxes on the middle-class families?


BEGALA: Well, he only wants to raise taxes on the very, very rich.

Let me ask you -- there are some good things in that bill, but let me ask you about this. There's a passage in that bill that cuts away the child tax credit for families making less than $10,000 a year and gives benefits to giant corporations. Now, addition to being a Republican strategist, you're a minister. Is that what Jesus would do? Would he hurt the little children to help the big corporations, Joe?


WATKINS: Jesus would encourage marriage. And this president has voted


WATKINS: Jesus would encourage marriage. And this support has voted, has supported ending the marriage penalty tax.


BEGALA: I understand that. But isn't it wrong, isn't it a sin to hurt poor children whose parents make less than $10,000 a year and help big corporations like Halliburton? Now, that is immoral, not just bad tax policy, isn't it?

WATKINS: Oh, absolutely not. The president is on the side of families and of parents.

BEGALA: Joe, we'll come back to that debate in a minute.


BEGALA: But tonight's debate, of course, is between Senator John Edwards and Vice President Dick Cheney.

But today has been dominated by a different debate, a debate between Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. You see, just a week ago, Mr. Cheney continued to press the argument that Saddam Hussein had what Mr. Cheney called -- quote -- "long- established ties to al Qaeda," this despite the fact that the 9/11 Commission found no collaborative relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam and despite the fact that even Secretary of State Colin Powell has debunked Mr. Cheney's right-wing fantasy of a Saddam-al Qaeda relationship.

And now Mr. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, who was once Dick Cheney's boss, has weighed in. Secretary Rumsfeld yesterday said there was -- quote -- "no strong, hard evidence" -- unquote -- linking Saddam to al Qaeda. Secretary Rumsfeld today tried to backtrack from his comment. And I suppose that is just typical of the Bush administration. Someone finally tells the truth and the first thing they do is issue a retraction. It's unbelievable, Joe. I mean...

WATKINS: Well, Paul, let's look at what John Kerry said himself. John Kerry said himself in 2001 that, if you were going win a war against terror, it would have to include Saddam. That's what John Kerry said.

John Kerry saw the same information that George Bush did. John Kerry agreed that Saddam Hussein was a threat.


WATKINS: And John Kerry agreed with the president to send the troops to Iraq. You know what? The debate coming up should be John Kerry against John Kerry, since he's so good at being against himself.


BEGALA: Well, either way, John Kerry is going to win, no matter who he debates. We already know that.



BEGALA: Go ahead.

WATKINS: It's just assumed that the Democratic nominee for president will always get the African-American vote. Past Democratic nominees have always enjoyed the support of more than 80 percent of the African-American vote.

But Kerry's support among black voters is soft, in the low '70s. In fact, it's so apparent that he's having trouble, he's enlisting some help from Reverend Jesse Jackson. John Kerry has no track record with African-Americans. He's never had an African-American on his Senate staff. His values don't seem to be in sync with African- Americans. So why does he think he should have their support?

Now, President Bush, on the other hand, has the most diverse Cabinet in presidential history. Among the well known minorities in his administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, as well as African-American secretaries of Education and HUD. How much more diverse can a president be, Paul? BEGALA: Well, I'm glad he hired those four African-Americans in the Cabinet. That's all the jobs he's created in the black community since he's become president.



BEGALA: The four people he hired.

But I did check. I did check. And you weren't being fair to Senator Kerry. On his staff, Theresa Robinson (ph), is legislative aide, is an African-American. His scheduler


BEGALA: ... is African-American. Augie Great (ph) is an African-American, Diane Jones (ph). This is an insult to those black staffers that Senator Kerry has and has had through the course of his whole Senate career.

WATKINS: Well, he just brought those folks on.


BEGALA: No, no. He's always had a very diverse staff.

WATKINS: He brought them on in time.

BEGALA: Well, President Bush and his campaign are certainly reeling from the debacle in the debate last week. So Mr. Bush is hoping he'll be saved by the animal magnetism of Dick Cheney.


BEGALA: Well, hey, don't laugh, guys. Cheney was widely credited with defeating Joe Lieberman in their 2000 debate. And tonight, believe it or not, will be the very first one-on-one nationally televised debate of John Edwards' career. That's a pretty tough way to debut. We'll debate the clash of the running mates next.

And then, later, Joe and I are going to tell you what questions we would ask if the candidates were foolish enough to allow us to moderate tonight's debate.

Stay with us to find out what they are.



ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, live from the beautiful Cleveland Art Museum, where I took a tour this afternoon. I recommend it to you if you have time in Cleveland.

With the vice presidential debate just a few hours from now, the spotlight is on the No. 2 guys, Dick Cheney and John Edwards. How will Edwards handle it when Cheney tries to paint him as a smooth- talking, but callow trial lawyer? Well, how will Cheney respond if Edwards says that he would rather represent consumers than run a corporation like Halliburton that's been accused of ripping off the taxpayers?

In the CROSSFIRE to preview the debate, Jim Dyke. He is the communications director for the Republican National Committee. And former Democratic presidential candidate and congressman from the great state of Ohio, graduate of Case Western, where the debate will be held.


BEGALA: Dennis Kucinich.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: Good to see you.

BEGALA: Joe, you want to lead us off.

WATKINS: Well, Congressman Kucinich, here's what I want to know. God forbid, if the president were to die, who is better equipped to lead the war on terror, a one-term senator from the state of North Carolina or the vice president of the United States?

KUCINICH: Well, let me explain why John Edwards is the person for the job.

It is true that Vice President Cheney has experience. And we're experienced with him. We're experienced with him leading secret talks on energy policy. We're experienced with Cheney's connection to Halliburton.



WATKINS: Tell me about Edwards. Tell me what make John Edwards the man for the job.

KUCINICH: Wait. I'm going answer the question my way.




KUCINICH: And what happened is that Vice President Cheney said there was no doubt that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Does that qualify him to continue to be vice president? He said there was a tie between -- he said there was a tie between...


WATKINS: Tell me about John Edwards. What has John Edwards ever done to qualify him to be in the No. 2 seat?

KUCINICH: He has as much experience right now that George Bush had when he was running for president.


BEGALA: Well, that's a fair point.


WATKINS: George Bush was a two-term governor of a state.


WATKINS: A very successful state, by the way.

KUCINICH: And let me say that, as a member of the United States Senate, he's been a strong advocate for workers and on health care and for people who are trying to get economic justice.


BEGALA: Let me...

KUCINICH: And that's why I think he is going to be the next vice president of the United States.


BEGALA: Let me bring Jim Dyke into this.

Jim, Joe mentioned experience. And let's mention the vice president's experience. As Congressman Kucinich points out, he did say there were weapons of mass destruction. There weren't. He said we would be greeted as liberators. We weren't. And what is worse is, he didn't pay attention to the Army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki. General Shinseki served two combat tours in Vietnam. He didn't get five deferments. Is Vice President Cheney, now that even Paul Bremer has said that Shinseki was right and Cheney was wrong, is the vice president going to be a man tonight and apologize in public to Eric Shinseki, who he insulted?

DYKE: I think it's -- it think it's important to understand the challenge that we face in fighting the war on terror. It's important to be consistent. It's important to show the commitment to our troops and our allies.

BEGALA: Isn't it more important to be right?

DYKE: It's very important to be right. That's why


BEGALA: Was Cheney right when he said we would be greeted as liberators?

DYKE: That's why you're seeing the evolution of Iraq right now being turned over to Prime Minister Allawi. Our troops are going to stay. It's important to be consistent.

BEGALA: Was he right when he said we would be greeted as liberators?

DYKE: The problem with Senator Kerry is, he said, we would listen to the generals. We would pull out in a year. We would pull out in four years. You have to be consistent.

Mr. Kucinich was consistent in the primaries. He said we needed to get out of there. There's fine. But this president believes in fighting the war on terror, staying, fighting the fight, so that we win it.


WATKINS: Look at consistent we are, Congressman. We're even wearing the same suit. That's consistency, isn't it?


KUCINICH: And you know what? And the administration is consistent. They've been consistently wrong about Iraq.


KUCINICH: They said that there were weapons of mass destruction.

WATKINS: Let's talk about Iraq, Congressman. Let's talk about Iraq.

KUCINICH: They said there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. There wasn't. They said that Iraq had nuclear capability. They didn't.


WATKINS: Well, Congressman, let's talk about that. You voted against the war. That's right.


KUCINICH: That's right. I did.


Now, Senator Kerry -- I mean, Senator Edwards, it would seem, would have the same problem as John Kerry, which is to say that they both voted for the war in Iraq and yet voted against funding our troops there who were in harm's way.

KUCINICH: But the question here is why did George Bush, who had the responsibility -- last I checked, it was Harry Truman who said, the buck stops here at that desk.

Well, in this administration, the buck doesn't stop there anymore. There's no accountability. The buck stops at Halliburton's bank account.



WATKINS: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.


BEGALA: Let me get Jim Dyke back in here.

DYKE: The theatrics of Halliburton.

BEGALA: Look...

DYKE: You can substitute in an agenda item, economics, Medicare, anything. You don't want to talk about that because your candidate doesn't have a plan. He doesn't have plan for any of it. He doesn't have plan for any of it


BEGALA: Let's talk about something that matters.

Let's talk about the people that murdered 3,000 of our brothers and sisters here in America.

DYKE: Let's talk about it.

BEGALA: Al Qaeda terrorists, not Saddam Hussein, who, while was a thug to his people, never came to America and attacked us. Al Qaeda did. Here's what the vice president said.


DYKE: They were in Iraq, though.

BEGALA: Drawing on his vast experience that you so tout, the vice president said only about a week ago -- quote -- "Saddam Hussein had a relationship with al Qaeda."

Now, that's like saying that Tucker Carlson has got a relationship with Britney Spears. He met her once, but he had no relationship.

KUCINICH: That's like saying that George Bush had a relationship with Ken Lay. BEGALA: Donald Rumsfeld yesterday set the record straight. He said, "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two."

Is Cheney going to finally going to admit reality, the way Rumsfeld did? Or is he going to continue in the flat Earth society, with this poppycock about al Qaeda being part of Saddam Hussein.

DYKE: This is a fun game you play, but the war on terror is not fun. It's serious.

BEGALA: No, and it's serious when Dick Cheney gets it wrong and invades the wrong country, where there was no al Qaeda.


DYKE: Terrorists were in Iraq. Saddam Hussein had the capability to make and produce and use weapons of mass destruction. He did it on his own people.

John Kerry said the greatest concern about Saddam is not the weapons of mass destruction, but what he would do with that information, who he would give it to. This is serious business.


BEGALA: Jim Dyke, you're 0-2. You've got to at least answer the question. Cheney said there were links to al Qaeda. Rumsfeld says there's not. Who do you believe? Who is right, Cheney or Rumsfeld?


DYKE: We have to take the fight to the terrorists. We're better off without Saddam Hussein. A question John Kerry can't answer. It's important.

BEGALA: I understand. But this is a question you can't answer. Powell and Rumsfeld say there were no links. The 9/11 Commission said there were no links. And Cheney says there was. Will he finally acknowledge


DYKE: The 9/11 Commission acknowledged there was links.


BEGALA: No, they didn't. They said there's no collaborative relationship at all.


DYKE: Look, you want to slit these hairs.


BEGALA: No, I don't.

DYKE: When you're facing an enemy that wants to destroy you, you have to take the steps, like this president has done, and defeat them.

BEGALA: And that was Saddam Hussein? Saddam Hussein? Is that who you're saying?

DYKE: And that's what we've done in Iraq. That's what we have done in Pakistan. That's what we have done in Libya.


KUCINICH: The record will show they had no ability to get nuclear weapons. They weren't trying to get nuclear weapons.


BEGALA: One at a time. One at a time. One at a time.


BEGALA: Let Mr. Kucinich respond.

Go ahead.


WATKINS: Hey, Congressman, Congressman, let's ask -- I want to ask you a question about tonight.

KUCINICH: Go ahead.

WATKINS: All right.

John Edwards has been on the campaign trail. He's really been pretty much of an attack dog most of the time. He has to attack because he really doesn't have anything to say about his own record because he doesn't have one.

KUCINICH: What's the question?

WATKINS: The question is this. Which John Edwards is going to show up tonight, the sunny guy from North Carolina or the attack dog for the Kerry camp?

KUCINICH: I would say that John Edwards, who is going to be the next vice president of the United States, is going to show up tonight.



WATKINS: Perish the thought. Perish the thought.


KUCINICH: And I want to go back to the question I was asking. Did Saddam Hussein -- was he responsible for 9/11?

DYKE: No. No one has ever suggested he was.

KUCINICH: Was Iraq responsible for 9/11?


DYKE: Congressman, surely you understand the threat of -- surely you understand the threat as a congressman, a United States congressman, a dictator, a ruthless dictator that has used weapons of mass destruction on his own people


KUCINICH: That's no what they told us, though.


KUCINICH: I voted on this. I voted on this.


BEGALA: One at a time.

Congressman Kucinich.


DYKE: Surely you understand that. Surely you understand that


KUCINICH: You know what I understand? I understand this administration...


DYKE: ... al-Zarqawi in Iraq before the Iraq war. He's a terrorist.


BEGALA: One at a time. One at a time.

Go ahead, Congressman.

KUCINICH: This administration misled the American people.

DYKE: Not true.


KUCINICH: Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

WATKINS: Absolutely not. If that's the case, then, why did John Kerry saying, knowing what he knows now, he would still vote to send the troops into Iraq?

DYKE: No, wait, Joe. That was last week. This week, he changed it.


BEGALA: Jim, let the congressman respond.

Go ahead.


KUCINICH: I think that it's important to look at where Senator Kerry would have taken us, as opposed to George Bush. This administration had a real enthusiasm for this war.

WATKINS: Well, which Senator Kerry, the one that is against the war or the one that is for the war?


KUCINICH: Wait a minute.

The point about Senator Kerry is that Senator Kerry, unlike the president, saw war. Senator Kerry, unlike the president, has actually the right to claim a little bit of mixed feelings about going into war.

WATKINS: What, the right war -- the right decision, but the wrong war?

KUCINICH: We have a president who has no mixed feelings about war. He is only for war.


KUCINICH: We should have a president who has


KUCINICH: ... and has a question about it.


BEGALA: Jim, let me ask you the same question Joe just asked Dennis Kucinich.

Which Cheney will show up today? Will he defend the Bush-Cheney record or will he just smear and attack John Kerry tonight?

DYKE: Well, he's never smeared and attacked John Kerry.


BEGALA: Wait a minute. He said, if John Kerry is elected, we will be hit by terrorists. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: By the way, we were hit by terrorists when Dick Cheney was supposed to be protecting us, not John Kerry.

DYKE: John Kerry's...


BEGALA: That's a smear.

DYKE: John Kerry's record is clear. It's in the United States Senate. Every time we bring up his votes against cuts...

BEGALA: So he's going to be on the attack.

DYKE: ... on intelligence cuts for important weapons systems we're using today, he calls it an attack on his patriotism.


BEGALA: All right, we are going to have to go to a break, Jim Dyke. We have to go to a break.

DYKE: It's important to discuss these things.

BEGALA: And next, our guests will enter the "Rapid Fire," which moves even faster than Halliburton can sign another no-bid contract.


BEGALA: And then, what is the CIA saying now about Iraq and biological weapons? Wolf Blitzer will bring us the latest right after the break.

Stay with us.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Cleveland, Ohio.

Coming up at the top of the hour, the vice presidential debate here in Cleveland only a little bit more than four hours away. We'll compare the styles of the two candidates. The Central Intelligence Agency is coming out with a brand new report on Saddam Hussein's arsenal. Sources say there's evidence Iraq produced some biological weapons, but only in very small quantities. And with the flu season just around the corner, there's a major shortage already of the vaccine. We'll tell you why. Information you need to know right now.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf.

Welcome back to CROSSFIRE from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Time for "Rapid Fire," where the questions and answers come faster even than Dick Cheney can drop the F-bomb on the Senate floor. We're talking about tonight's upcoming vice presidential debate and who has more to gain. Our guests today, Jim Dyke, the communications director for the Republican National Committee, and former Democratic presidential candidate Congressman from Ohio Dennis Kucinich.


KUCINICH: That new biological, you know what it is? It's baloney with mold. That's what they found in Iraq.


WATKINS: Dennis Kucinich, here's a "Rapid Fire" question for you that ought to be real easy for you. Name three legislative accomplishments of John Edwards? Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

KUCINICH: Yes, I would say that John Edwards has been a leader in making sure that people have the rights as workers, rights towards health care, the rights of people who are victims and in situations where corporations are trying to deprive them of their rights. He's been a strong advocate for people at every level.


WATKINS: Of trial lawyers. He's been a strong advocate of trial lawyers.

BEGALA: Yes or no, were our troops greeted as liberators?

DYKE: Absolutely.

BEGALA: What do you drink and where can I get a case of it?

DYKE: You can't get a case of it anywhere.


BEGALA: We've got 1,058


BEGALA: ... and you say they've been treated as liberators?

DYKE: There are still cells of terrorism in Iraq. And we're fighting them and the Iraqis are fighting them. There's a prime minister in Iraq now. Iraq is becoming a free and democratic society. That's


BEGALA: I don't care. I care about our soldiers getting shot. That's what I care about.

DYKE: That is a wonderful thing to fighting and winning the war on terror, to fight them here, so that we don't have to fight them in New York City or Boston or here.

BEGALA: They're coming over, those Iraqis.

Go ahead, Joe.


Who has more foreign policy experience, Vice President Dick Cheney or John Edwards?

KUCINICH: Well, Vice President Cheney has the wrong experience. He took us into a war with his help that we didn't need to go into it. That's No. 1.

WATKINS: It's a war that John Kerry supported and that John Edwards supported.


KUCINICH: No. 2, as a member of the United States Senate, as a member of the United States Senate, the next vice president, John Edwards, has a wealth of foreign policy experience and someone who has participated in debates in the last couple of years. He knows in detail what we need to do to stop the war on -- to stop the terrorists from attacking this country, to stop creating conditions where we're more vulnerable, to stop a situation where we're finding ourselves at risk because of the administration's policies which took us into a war we didn't have to go into.


BEGALA: Almost out of time.

Will Dick Cheney lose control and drop the F-bomb, the way he did on the Senate floor?



DYKE: Vice President Cheney is a man with conviction. He's clear about what he believes. He's firm about it. And he'll be firm tonight.

BEGALA: Jim Dyke, predicting a firm performance from our vice president, who is a formidable debater himself.

Dennis Kucinich, congressman from Ohio, thank you both very much for a fun debate. Well, Dick Cheney and John Edwards, of course, will be answering a lot of questions tonight. Joe and I have a couple of our own for the candidates, questions John Edwards and Dick Cheney really hope they don't hear tonight. Find out what they are right after this.



BEGALA: Welcome back to the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The third person on the stage tonight will be Gwen Ifill, a veteran journalist who is as tough as she is fair. But Joe and I couldn't resist offering Gwen a little advice, a couple of questions she might want to ask tonight.

Joe, here is what I would ask the vice president.

Is it true that, after you lose, you're planning on making the sequel to "Grumpy Old Men"?


BEGALA: I think that's what Dick Cheney would be best suited for.

WATKINS: Well, I've got one. I would ask say -- I would want Gwen to ask the . If good hair is the prerequisite for being on the No. 2 on the Democratic ticket, shouldn't Al Sharpton be the vice presidential nominee.


BEGALA: Sharpton would be great. He would be good in the debate tonight.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

WATKINS: From the right, I'm Joe Watkins.

CROSSFIRE will be in Cincinnati tomorrow.



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