The Web      Powered by
powered by Yahoo!


Return to Transcripts main page


Election Eve Town Hall Meeting

Aired November 1, 2004 - 23:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: It is the eve, an important election and tonight, prime time politics comes to you from this magnificent old courthouse in Osceola County, Florida. Good evening, welcome. Glad to have you with us tonight. We are hear in these states that decided it all in the year 2000.
ANNOUNCER: This is a PAULA ZAHN NOW election eve special, a town hall meeting, the undecided vote. From Kissimmee, Florida, here's Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: Thank you. Good evening. We are here in what is arguably the hottest political spot in the nation. It's called the I-4 corridor and it stretches for 130 miles from Tampa Bay to Daytona Beach. It is here that so many votes are still up for grabs. With just an hour before the first polls open in the tiny community of Dicksville Notch, New Hampshire, our town meeting continues here in Kissimmee, Florida.

I'm joined by 105 voters, about a quarter of them undecided at this hour. They are here to ask some tough questions of Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida, representing the Kerry Edwards campaign and Ralph Reed, a senior Bush Cheney adviser. Good to see both of you. Welcome.

And so far we've covered a lot of territory. The one issue we have not gotten into is what you do not see as ancient history, what happened here in the year 2000. How many of you in this room expect for us to have a decisive victory by one candidate or another come Tuesday night or the wee hours of Wednesday morning? Let's see a show of hands.

And those of you who think this is going to be a long-drawn out process, perhaps a repeat of the 2000. Now this is pretty unscientific but it seems to me, there seems to be some pessimism about the outcome of this election. What is your prediction? Will we or won't we have a president that is not challenged come the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Ralph Reed.

RALPH REED, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: The president will win the popular vote and the electoral college.

ZAHN: Your president, like President Bush.

REED: President Bush.

ZAHN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) challenging that

REED: And we'll know it Tuesday night or early Wednesday. ZAHN: Senator Graham.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM, KERRY EDWARDS CAMPAIGN: I think that we'll know it by the early hours of Wednesday, because I believe John Kerry will carry the popular votes.

ZAHN: You don't see your state being put through the horror of what it went through in the year 2000.

GRAHAM: What caused Florida to be out center stage in 2000 was the fact the election was so close. We had six million people vote and incredibly the difference was 537 votes. I can't imagine that anything of that will occur tomorrow.

ZAHN: Of course, the unknown is we don't know how many of the newly registered voters will end up voting and everybody tells me the next president will become president on the basis of those votes tomorrow.

Let's move on to one of our questions from an audience member. You asked us in the last hour and we so rudely had to end the show and now you get an opportunity (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Jim Hadaway (ph) from Orlando and as I stated, I think the war in Iraq, the conflict in Iraq is really distraction from the greater war on terror. As a parent of a child who is not yet of military age, I think what if he was. I can't think of a good reason for him to go to fight and die in Iraq and if I can't send my child, I can't see sending someone else's child. So what I'm wondering Mr. Reed on behalf of your side, if you could look me in the eye and give me a good reason why I should sacrifice my son for Iraq.

REED: Well, what I can tell you is that the work that our brave fighting men and women are engaged in in Iraq is vital. It is important. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and contrary to what Senator Kerry says, I do not believe that those who have given their lives in this struggle did so in vain for a mistake. It is not a mistake and the truth is, what we are doing is we are taking a regime that was aiding and abetting terrorism, that was skimming $350 million from the oil for food program of the United Nations and using it to fund weapons programs.

We know for example, from the Duelfer report that he had plans for ballistic missiles that he could have fired into many capitals in Europe. This is a man who provided harbor and sanctuary to Abu Nidal (ph), offered sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and provided sanctuary to Al Zarqawi, one of the most notorious terrorists in the world. That bloody dictator is now sitting in a prison cell in a free Iraq, awaiting trial.

ZAHN: Senator Graham, do you believe there was any justification for this war? I mean do you agree with what he said about Saddam Hussein being a menace, being a threat to the rest of the world, particularly the European capitals.

GRAHAM: I'd like to divide the question if I could. First, there were a lot of people who didn't think World War I was a proper war for the United States to engage in. There were people who felt the same way about World War II, Korea, Vietnam. But we have in our country as a fundamental responsibility of citizenship is to come to the protection of the country when those who, through the democratic process, have the authority to direct the foreign affairs of the nation, determine it to be necessary.

So I think the question is not whether your son, if called, would serve with honor. It's the question of the judgment that led us into Iraq and that is what is going to be before the American people tomorrow. If you like the judgment that got us into Iraq, you can expect that same judgment to be used in North Korea, in Iran, in other places around the world. I believe that we should have stayed on the task of winning the war against the people who weren't preparing to kill Americans but had just 3,000 Americans.

ZAHN: We have a couple more questions for you now on the issue of Iraq and we're going to take one right after the other. Sir, you're first.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Brock Bompan (ph) from Mirando (ph) and my question is for Senator Graham and the Kerry campaign. Kerry talks about how we should get multilateral or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with all of the other countries, how we should have them all together for a summit to get out of Iraq. How can you get other international communities to respect the United States whenever Kerry openly says it's the wrong war, the wrong place, at the wrong time. How are we supposed to be respected by other countries?

ZAHN: All right. Hold that question in your head since we have a two-part question here. Sir. Let's hear...

QUESTION: My question is, over the past three years, we have seen the country very divided (UNINTELLIGIBLE) across our borders and now we see a world divided, in the view of the United States divided all across the world. My question for you gentlemen is, are you aware of that, if your candidates are aware of that and will we (ph) have plans to reconcile (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ZAHN: All right. Senator Graham, why don't we try to crunch both of these together because what it goes down to its basic core is, the world and its attitude towards this war and how that affects us down the road.

GRAHAM: I think that we will have a difficult time and this may sound like a partisan statement and if it is, so be it. It's going to be very difficult for President Bush to achieve what we need to do, which is to bring allies together. Remember, we call France and Germany old Europe. We disparage countries. You know what country in Europe has the lowest attitude towards the United States today? No, Spain and why does Spain have the lowest attitude? Because they feel we lied to them, got them into Iraq under false pretenses and a lot of Spaniards died over there.

I believe that part of the beginning of a restoration of American respect is that we tell the truth. In the case of Iraq, we may or may not have known that there weren't weapons of mass destruction, although we were being told that there were weapons in precisely 550 sites. But we knew how poor our intelligence was. We knew we didn't have any Americans on the ground to check whether what we were hearing from exiles in foreign countries was accurate. If we couldn't find a building that had 380 tons of explosives, what in the world does that say about the quality of our intelligence to make other judgments upon which we would put young Americans' lives at risk.

ZAHN: Let's fast forward as you try to react to what the senator has just said. Now we know and even the administration has admitted that a lot of this intelligence was flawed. Even given that, the president was posed the question, give what you know today, if you had to go back and do it all over again, would you gone to war with Iraq and he answered that question, yes. Help us understand why he would answer the question.

REED: Well, I think I've walked through it in response to the previous question. This is someone who was an egregious, blatant and material breach of multiple UN resolutions involving prohibited weapons programs like chemical and biological programs. The Kay report documents that he had a clandestine network of chemical and biological laboratories and that they were working on weapons grade material. He paid the North Koreans $10 million for long-range missile technology so he could fire missiles 1500 kilometers. What do you think he was going to put on the end of those missiles, a fruit basket? He was going to put warheads on the end of those missiles.

This was a dangerous and destabilizing influence and when - let me speak to the issue of judgment for a minute. Senator Kerry made the exact same judgment the president did, the exact same judgment. He walked to the floor of the U.S. Senate on October 9, 2002 and he said this and this is a direct quote. He said the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but it is not new. He said that we had to act and he voted for it and then after he made the same judgment the president did on the same intelligence and voted to send our American men and women into battle, he then voted against the $87 billion appropriation to give them the body armor and the combat pay they needed to win. Now listen, there were four members of the U.S. Senate who voted that way, four. That's it. And two of them are the Democratic presidential nominee and his running mate.

ZAHN: Senator Graham. We are going to give you the opportunity to explain this seemingly disconnect between the senator's first position and later on when the $87 billion authorization came up for a vote, so please stay tuned. We're going to take a short break with just under an hour to go before Election Day, how can any voter still be undecided? Well that answer, I guess we know that, right? We know that you're troubled by positions of both of these candidates and we're going to hear more from these undecided voters when we return from (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


ZAHN: And welcome back to our town hall meeting here in the battleground of Osceola County, Florida. My guests again Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida, representing the Kerry Edwards campaign and from the Bush Cheney campaign, senior adviser Ralph Reed. Glad to have both of you with us. I want to give you Senator, the opportunity to answer a very pointed question from one of our audience members that says, why did Senator Kerry vote to authorize this war and then OK the funding mechanism, an $87 billion authorization?

GRAHAM: First, on the issue of the facts upon which Senator Kerry voted to authorize the president to go to war, I believe a member of Congress has a right to accept the truthfulness of what the president of the United States tells us. He didn't just say that Saddam Hussein was developing a program, developing missiles. He said that these threats to the United States were available for immediate use and therefore, we had to go preemptively and take them out.

ZAHN: So you're saying the senator voted to authorize on false pretenses.

GRAHAM: ... on false pretenses. Second, on the issue of the $87 billion, first there was adequate money in the Defense Department to continue to support the war effort. The vote against it was not a vote against the interests of the troops. There were two questions. One, who should pay for this war? In the civil war, the generation that was alive during the civil war paid for it, very little addition to the national debt. All of that $87 billion has gone to the national debt. We aren't paying anything towards the cost of this war. Second, is the portion that related to rebuilding of Iraq, many of us, including myself, felt that Iraq is one of the richest countries in the world. It has the second largest oil reserves on this planet. Why should we be writing a $20 billion check to Iraq when they can afford to pay for their own reconstruction and who's the principal beneficiary of that? Saudi Arabia, which has loaned billions and billions of dollars to Iraq. We just made their loans a lot more secure by what we did. Why in the world should we do that?

ZAHN: I can hear on the basis of your response to some of these questions how strongly you all feel about this war in Iraq and if you look at some of our newest polling by CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, it shows at the top of the list of voters' concerns are the war on terror and the issue of Iraq, followed by the economy and then health care. I know I had the opportunity to talk with a number of undecideds in this room. Once again, a show of hands of those of you who have not decided who you're going to vote yet for tomorrow. Quite a few of you. Can you tell us why? You have no idea at this hour who you might be voting for.

QUESTION: My name is Carmen (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I'm from Kissimmee. There's still a lot of questions I need to be answered for me to be able to decide who I'm voting for tomorrow. There's a lot of concerns. I am still not very convinced with everything that I have heard so far, but I'm hoping by tomorrow morning, when I go to the poll, I'll know who I'm voting for.

ZAHN: All right. Now are you going to happily vote for one of these candidates or are you going to hold your nose and...

QUESTION: No, I would do it happily I'm sure. ZAHN: Happily. Well, at the end of the hour, we're going to find out if you heard anything from our two excellent guests that might help cement your decision. Sir, you're also an undecided.


ZAHN: Why?

QUESTION: I just haven't seen a knock out punch given, that would convince me to go one way or the other at this point. So I'm waiting to ask a question.

ZAHN: And you have a question too, don't you?

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Richard Slaughter (ph). I'm originally from east Tennessee, but I've been a Florida resident for 20 years and I approved this message.

ZAHN: And we do too because it's very short, we like that.

QUESTION: My question is about special or small businesses. What can you do to help small businesses and small business owners insure their survival in this tough market and economy and so forth?

ZAHN: Ralph, why don't you take that one first.

REED: Well, three things. First of all, Senator Graham mentioned the fact that they wanted to raise taxes. And that was the vote that Kerry cast before he voted against the $87 billion. The fact of the matter is that what he wanted to do was raise taxes on the 23 million small businesses that are creating 85 percent of the jobs in this country. When you say you want to raise taxes on the quote, wealthy, keep in mind that anybody who runs a partnership or a small business or a limited liability corporation, I would assume there are people in this room tonight. Raise your hand if you own or work for a small business. Every one of these virtually is filing on somebody's personal income return. So when you raise taxes on individuals, you're socking it to small business. The president wants to keep those taxes low and make them permanent. Kerry is opposed.

Number two, the president wants to reform our litigation system so that we have fewer junk lawsuits, so that we put a cap on punitive damages because too many small businesses are paying in effect, a litigation tax in order to protect themselves through high insurance premiums against junk lawsuits and thirdly, the president wants to allow small businesses to pool together into larger associations to purchase health insurance. It would lower premiums and make it easier for them to cover their employees. So the president's agenda is pro small business and small business friendly and John Kerry is a return to the old style thinking of tax and spend (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ZAHN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) why would his plan be any more effective than the plan that Ralph just laid out?

GRAHAM: I am glad that Ralph made that argument because I've been looking for an opportunity to respond to it. The premise of Ralph's argument that these tax cuts for the super wealthy are necessary to support small business is that every small business person is super wealthy. The fact is that only 2 percent of small businesses are in the highest tax bracket, which is the bracket that got the biggest benefit from President Bush's tax cut. In fact, about 35 to 40 percent of small business people are in the next to the lowest tax bracket. So this is a very inefficient way if what you want to do is to encourage small businesses.

ZAHN: What would be the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Kerry plan versus the Bush plan?

GRAHAM: It would be much more targeted. For instance, we ought to be helping small businesses pay for their health insurance costs. That's what President Kerry... We ought to be encouraging small businesses to be able to invest by a specific program to allow accelerated depreciation when a small business buys another truck or a piece of equipment. Third, we've got to stop this business of paying to outsource American jobs and American business. As Ralph knows, just within the last two weeks, President Bush signed a bill which contains 14, 14 additional incentives to take jobs out of the United States overseas. It's going to cost you, all of us, are going to pay $43 billion over the next 10 years to finance more jobs leaving the United States, going to foreign countries.

ZAHN: Did you hear anything in these two gentlemen's responses that would help you cast the deciding vote tomorrow?

QUESTIONER: I probably would lean more towards Senator Graham... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what they just said.

ZAHN: We still have more on the show to come. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) education platform. We're going to move on now to an e-mail from a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Callahan, Florida. He says I am 32 years old and all reports say by the time I'm ready to retire, there is a good chance I will not have any money from Social Security. Why is Senator Kerry against younger workers like myself, investing a percentage of their Social Security taxes into a private investment vehicle. Senator?

GRAHAM: First, let's put this in context. Most Americans retire with three sources of income to depend upon. One is their personal savings, second is an employer-based pension and third is Social Security. Both categories one and two are now becoming increasingly vulnerable. How many of you used to have the old fashioned type of employer pension where you had a defined benefit? You knew when you retired, you were going to get exactly $1,482 a month. Now it's these programs like 401(k)s where what you get depends on what happens to the stock market. Having made private savings and employer-based pensions more vulnerable, shouldn't Social Security be the rock foundation of a person's retirement?

ZAHN: Ralph. Do you concede there's any risk in this to the president's plan, allowing some of these younger workers to invest in these private investment accounts?

REED: I concede there is enormous risk to doing nothing, because if we allow the current system without reform and without modernization to play out through the mid part of this century, the Social Security trustees have projected that we will either have to raise payroll taxes 50 percent or cut benefits for seniors 25 percent. Now if we do nothing, which is the Kerry plan, that's what's going to happen. We either slash benefits or we raise taxes. Either one is a bad idea. So what the president has suggested is allowing younger workers, not anybody at or near retirement, but those under the age of 40, to set aside a portion of this in an account that would then earn the higher returns, which if you take the period from 1920 to the year 2004 is about 7 percent a year and by allowing that to earn equity and grow, we would take that devastating pressure off the system. This is an issue of leadership, the president's lead. He doesn't think about politics. He thinks about what's right. And John Kerry will allow this problem to go unsolved and that's why we...

ZAHN: All right. Still ahead, since there have been no attacks on American soil since 9/11, is it wise to switch administrations? Undecided voters still want to know that. We'll be back with more questions from our audience and from our website when we come back.


ZAHN: And welcome back to Kissimmee, Florida. Our special guests this evening are Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida and Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, who is now the southeastern regional chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Welcome back, gentlemen.

Now on to another question from our audience.

QUESTION: Hi. Good evening. My name's Tom Reed (ph). I live in Celebration. September 11, I lived in the Washington, D.C., area, so I know how it impacted not only D.C. but New York. Since September 11, there have not been any attacks on this country. The president has eradicated 75 percent of al Qaeda terrorists. The economy is showing strong signs of recovery. Gross domestic product is up.

Why should we change presidents right now, when everything seems to be moving in the right direction. And in fact, changing presidents, don't you feel, would put some sort of message to our enemies that wish to do us harm that America lacks a certain amount of resolve, to change presidents right now, when we're moving in the right direction?


GRAHAM: Well, I don't think America wants to get into a position that we vote for who's going to lead our country based on what somebody overseas will interpret that as meaning.


GRAHAM: And why do we need to change direction? I'd like to -- to comment on the statement that Ralph just made. You know, the big elephant -- no pun intended -- in the room is the deficit. We made a very, very fundamental decision about three years ago. We had a situation with a sufficient amount of surplus projected over the next 10 years, we could have completely paid off the national debt. We could have had zero debt. There is nothing that would be more beneficial to the strength of Social Security than having accomplished that objective because what we're doing now is we are using the Social Security trust fund as the piggy bank. It would be as if the company for which you work was dipping into the employee pension plan to pay daily expenses. That's exactly what we're doing.

The president's plan on Social Security reform would make the situation worse. The reason is, the way Social Security is structured, the greatest amount of money that goes to pay your pension and anyone else who's on Social Security is from the contributions of the current workers. And that's the way it's been since 1935.

ZAHN: But...

GRAHAM: It would cost a trillion dollars if we were to adopt the president's plan of taking money out of that stream and using it for individual retirement accounts...

ZAHN: All right...

GRAHAM: ... and I haven't heard any suggestion of how we're going to pay for that trillion dollars, other than just to...

ZAHN: All right...

GRAHAM: ... add it to the national debt.

ZAHN: But to be perfectly fair here -- you've moved us on to the issue of the deficit, so I can't let either one of you get away with it. A lot of economists who consider themselves objective believe that even though both of your candidates pledge to cut the deficit in half, recognizing we've gone from record surpluses to projected record deficits, that they're going to have to cut spending at some point in this next administration to make these numbers work, that their deficit reduction plans aren't viable. Ralph?

REED: Well, let me answer that by saying that's just simply not accurate. You can slow the rate of growth in spending and still cut the deficit in half. Under the previous administration, the final budget submitted by the previous administration, discretionary domestic spending was growing at 15 percent a year. Under the president's FY2005 budget, which is for the upcoming fiscal year, it's growing at 1 percent a year, while the economy's growing at between 4.5 and 5 percent a year. If the economy grows at 5 percent a year, or basically, increases by 50 percent over 10 years, and you slow the growth of spending, you can handle that.

But I'd like to, if I -- if you don't mind, actually answer the question, which...


REED: Here's the reason why it's a mistake to change horses right now at a time of war. The reason why it's a mistake is not because of a signal that it sends from going from somebody wearing a blue jersey to a red jersey. That's not the issue. The issue is John Kerry is on record as saying this is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time, and by the way, I'm going to get everybody to fight it with us. And that is -- there is -- that is no way to build a team.


REED: That is no way to build a team. If you want -- if you want other countries to help us -- listen, we got 40 nations in Afghanistan. We got 30 nations in Iraq, including NATO, which is now training Iraqi security forces. If you want other nations to join us, you don't need somebody who's gotten up and called the people who are already fighting and dying with us a "coalition of the coerced and bribed," which is what John Kerry...

ZAHN: All right...


ZAHN: ... let me just see a show of hands here, going to this overall question of budget deficits. Is this going to be of significance interest to you, of importance, as you cast you vote tomorrow, the federal deficit (UNINTELLIGIBLE) And let's see a show of hands. Are any of you optimistic that either one of these candidates would be successful in cutting the budget in half during the next administration? So in half, yes.

All right, now on to the issue of the general direction our country is moving in, which is something we didn't really let you address. There's a new poll out showing that 43 percent of Americans do not think this country's moving in the right direction. How many of you don't think the country's moving in the right direction right now? All right, show of hands. How many of you think we are? All right. And do you think a change of directions and administrations will affect that number, in your judgment? All right.

We're going to take a short break and let you gnaw on that a little bit on the other side. More of our final town hall meeting with voters here in Kissimmee Florida right after this short break.


TARA SCHROEDER, TAMPA TEACHER: I know our attention should be paid to the war, but I just think equal attention should be paid for our economy.

PHYLLIS HARROD, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I feel the economy will turn around. As we all know, with an election, all of a sudden everything will start booming again.

RICK THOMAS, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I think Bush always leaning toward the religious (ph) or the wealthy. I think Kerry has more the grass roots (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for individuals who are working (UNINTELLIGIBLE)



ZAHN: Welcome back. I'm joined by some 105 voters here in Kissimmee, Florida, as we continue our final town hall meeting of the campaign. Do you think this campaign is over? No, well, we may be back for more. About a quarter of them came into this undecided, and here to try to persuade them, Democratic senator Bob Graham for the Kerry-Edwards campaign and Ralph Reed representing the Bush-Cheney campaign.

We have an e-mail for you gentlemen, and this one comes from Tony Awad in Winter Haven, Florida, among some of 16 (ph) of the thousands of responses we've gotten here this evening. "If by tomorrow bin Laden is captured, a peaceful solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found and somehow Iraq became a democratic country, do you think terrorism will stop?" Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Those would certainly be three good ways to get -- to get started, but I believe the problem of terrorism is deeper than that, and it goes back to some of the discussions we had on faith. What essentially is driving the terrorists is a very fundamentalist view of the Muslim world which rejects the role of government, even rejects the role of today. The only thing that is important is what's going to happen on the other side of death.

Frankly, we don't understand the 1.3 billion people on this earth who are of the Muslim faith. They don't understand the 1.3 billion Judeo-Christians of this world. One of the real challenges for our and future generations is going to be to try to bridge that lack of understanding, and in so doing, I believe we will truly begin to dry up the swamp that fosters terrorists.

ZAHN: Do you believe the roots of hatred are so deep that that bridge is -- is unlikely to be built?

REED: No, I don't. I really don't. In fact, I think that there are many Palestinians who are yearning to live in a true democracy and yearning to have a government that is free from the taint of terrorism and corruption. And the answer to the question is, yes, we could make a lot of progress if we achieve those things, but a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue has to be predicted on the Palestinian authority recognizing the right of the state of Israel to exist.


REED: So you know, at some point, Yasser Arafat has to be replaced by a -- a leadership for the Palestinian people that represents the true aspirations of Palestinians for the same things that people around the world are hungering for: respect for human rights, democracy and freedom from the taint of terrorism and corruption. When we have that kind of leadership, I believe we can have peace in the Middle East.

(APPLAUSE) QUESTION: Thank you. Senator, with all due respect, I don't believe that you answered my question directly. And I was a Senate staff member in Washington for five years, so I watched a lot of hands-on politicking going on up there.

ZAHN: What's the question?

QUESTION: My question is, it's been widely reported -- and the -- and John Kerry always talks about leadership, leadership, leadership. It's been widely reported that he has been conducting internal polls to see how he should properly respond to the most recent tape from Osama bin Laden in order to how he positions himself to get the most votes out of tomorrow's election. What kind of president do we need that has to conduct a poll to respond to Osama bin Laden?

ZAHN: OK. Let's let Senator Graham...

QUESTION: George W. Bush did not need a poll to respond on 9/11.


ZAHN: I think the divisions in this room...

GRAHAM: Sir...

ZAHN: ... are becoming clear at this point in the evening.

GRAHAM: Sir, I want to -- I want to be fully responsive to your questions. And if your question's did John Kerry require doing a focus group to decide how he felt about bin Laden's tape -- in fact, as I know -- as I understand it, he was asked that question without having been previously briefed or having any background, gave almost exactly word for word the same language -- the same response that President Bush gave at a distant place. There is no difference between the position of John Kerry and President Bush on the issue of, Is America going to allow itself to be intimidated by Osama bin Laden? The answer is not, No, but, Hell, no!

ZAHN: All right.


ZAHN: I think I've heard both of the campaigns for so many months now, I can almost give your talking points on Osama bin Laden. I know you don't think he is the absolute -- should be the single focus of the war on terror, but would you acknowledge tonight that this should be some reflection on the president's credibility, even though you think the Bush administration has successfully captured a third of all other -- al Qaeda high-ranking members, they haven't gotten Osama bin Laden. Why shouldn't the voters judge the president on that?

REED: Well, it isn't a third, it's 75 percent. And when you -- when you capture the person who is the mastermind of the September 11 attacks... ZAHN: Do you know -- first of all, do you buy that number? Because I see the numbers all over the map. On the conservative side, it's 30 percent. They say 75 percent.

GRAHAM: I think it kind of depends on how many folks you put on the team to start with, and then you can decide...

ZAHN: So you've seen all the numbers. It's a sliding scale.

REED: Well -- now, look, you -- you can fight over the numbers all you want. The reality is that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of September 11 -- he's the one who convened the meeting in Kuala Lumpur in January of 2000, with the blessing of Osama bin Laden, to begin the planning for those attacks. He has been captured. Other senior operatives have been captured. The leader of al Qaeda in Indonesia has been captured.


REED: We are systematically...

ZAHN: All right...


ZAHN: Just a brief answer to this...

REED: And what I'm saying -- what I'm saying...

ZAHN: How important is Osama bin Laden to get, to kill or to capture?

REED: As I said before, you keep your eye on the ball, which is to win the war on terror, and eventually, we will capture or kill Osama bin Laden...

ZAHN: All right...

REED: ... if we stay on offense and not on defense.

ZAHN: Let me see a show of hands. How many of you think that it's keenly important to kill or capture Osama bin Laden? And how many of the rest of you think that it's this broader war of terror that -- war on terror...


REED: It's not an either/or. What I'm...

ZAHN: All right.

REED: ... saying is, he used to send the airplanes aimed as missiles. Now he sends videotapes. We're winning the war on terror.

(APPLAUSE) GRAHAM: Let me say a number that I think is important. On September the 11th, 2001, the estimate, using the standard of people who were actually trained and committed to commit terrorism, that there were 100,000 of those in the world. Today there's probably close to 200,000 of those people in the world because they're recruiting them and training them faster than we're killing them. Now, does that indicate that we're winning the war on terror? I don't think so.


ZAHN: All right, gentlemen. What will each candidate do for the African-American community? That question and the answer from the campaigns when we come back. Our town hall meeting continues from Florida. Please stay with us.


ZAHN: And welcome back. Just 10 minutes to go before election day. We're in Kissimmee, Florida, with Democratic senator Bob Graham representing the Kerry campaign and Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, representing the Bush campaign.

Moving on for another question now from this lovely lady.

QUESTION: I'm Joy Belfon Valentine (ph) of Apopka. I was particularly disconcerted to hear President Bush trivialize his lack of a relationship with the Congressman Black Caucus and the NAACP. That said, how would electing either of your candidates benefit the community of people of color?

ZAHN: All right, we've got two minutes before we have to run up against another commercial break, so I'm going to count on you at about a minute apiece here.

REED: Well, the president has met with the Congressional Black Caucus. The president has spoken to the NAACP. He's spoken to the Urban League. And even more importantly, he's got a compelling agenda to help minority citizens. If you look at No Child Left Behind, it primarily helps those minority children who need to have the achievement gap between them and whites closed, and he's made sure we have the funding and the high standards...


REED: It's -- if I could -- if I could answer the -- if I could...


ZAHN: ... out there, I think, Ralph.

REED: The president -- the president has also -- the president has also added 1.56 million minority homeowners. And for the first time in American history, a majority of minority Americans own their own home. QUESTION: Who cares if they (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

REED: And finally...


ZAHN: All right.

REED: And finally, the president has also, through his small business and other initiatives helping to create economic opportunity for minority citizens. The African-American unemployment rate today is lower than it was when Bill Clinton was running for reelection...


REED: ... in 1996.

ZAHN: And Senator, before you have a chance to answer the question -- I just want to see a show of hands so we understand where the heat is coming from in this room. How many of you are teachers in this room? And is that where a lot of the groaning was coming from? I think so. OK.


GRAHAM: Well, I think the way that we help one group of Americans is basically the way we help all Americans. I don't think we have a plan for African-Americans or a plan for Hispanics. We have a plan for Americans. What we want to do is to grow good jobs in the United States of America. We all...

ZAHN: Do you deny those statistics that Ralph gave about home ownership improved under the Bush administration?

GRAHAM: No, I would give Alan Greenspan more credit for that than anybody else. He's the one who's helped to keep interest rates at such a low...


GRAHAM: ... rate and therefore make it possible for so many people. But I think that our education system has not been well served. Not only have we not funded No Child Left Behind -- have you noticed that the state of Florida has had difficulty financing its responsibility in education, in large part because we have undercut the revenue base of states and local governments, and therefore, they can't provide the education, the police and fire, all the other basic services that are required.

ZAHN: Going to have to leave it there. There's more to come here at our final town hall meeting in Osceola County, Florida. We'll be back in a moment. Please stay with us.


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The early voting is still going on. It's not too late to vote early over there. And if you haven't done it, when I shut up, I want you to go do it. Will you do that?



ZAHN: And we're back with more of our town hall meeting from Kissimmee, Florida. Democratic senator Bob Graham hasn't melted yet, nor has Ralph Reed.


ZAHN: We've been standing under these hot lights for ages! They're representing both campaigns.

Before we close out the show tonight, I'd like to again hear from our audience about your thoughts about this campaign. A show of hands of those of you who were really cynical about the process as this campaign went on. A lot of you.

Joe, I know you have some strong thoughts about it. What has bugged you the most?

QUESTION: Well, I'm 58 years old, and I -- so many of these campaigns, the negativity is -- the negativity is such a turn-off. You know, it's attack, attack, attack. It's not either one of the candidates really telling us what they're going to do. It's -- it's point and counterpoint about -- against their opponent. And I -- you know, I don't think I'm any different than the rest of the American people in saying that it's a turn-off, the negativity. And you know, I don't know -- if this is the best that our politicians can do, then it's a sad commentary for the American people. I think something has to change in politics.

ZAHN: All right. Why don't we, before we give you a chance to respond to that, have all of you undecideds please stand up at this point. Don't be shy. We know you're in here. And then you can raise a hand. Did any of you hear anything tonight that will help seal your vote? OK, a couple of you did. But you still have some converting to do here, gentlemen. And we'll allow you to sit down and relax.

Senator Graham, in 30 seconds, why don't you try to convince those who have not made up their mind why you think John Kerry would be the best choice for our next president?

GRAHAM: Paula, I don't think I can convince you to vote for John Kerry or for George Bush. There's not been an election in my lifetime where the choices were as stark and the consequences as significant. If you believe the way to build the future of America's economy is to give massive tax cuts to the 1 or 2 percent wealthiest of Americans, you should vote for George Bush.

ZAHN: All right. That's your 30 seconds. That's all I can let you do. Ralph Reed, you get equal time here.

REED: All right.

ZAHN: And the clock is ticking.

REED: What I would say is on September 11, 2001, the world changed. And when you go into the voting booth tomorrow and you close the curtain and it's just you by yourself, I want you to ask yourself who can best keep America secure and who will best keep my family safe? And I hope you'll (UNINTELLIGIBLE)


ZAHN: I think I owe you one second back on your next appearance. Senator Bob Graham, it's a pleasure to have you.

GRAHAM: Thank you.


ZAHN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Ralph Reed, thank you for your time.


ZAHN: Good luck to both of your candidates. We're going to let you get out of here so you can all vote tomorrow. Thank you for joining us tonight. Thanks for your interest and your excellent questions.

And we wanted to remind all of you to stay with CNN for complete coverage of this historic presidential election, live continuous coverage.


International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.