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Fewer jabs, but plenty of 'spin' after second presidential debate

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Although presidential aspirants Al Gore and George W. Bush engaged in a decidedly more civil debate in North Carolina on Thursday night, their supporters found plenty of "spin" material after their 90-minute encounter.

"There are three debates and I think the American people are going to make a decision after they see all three formats," says Gore campaign chairman William Daley  

Gore and Bush -- locked in a see-saw battle for the White House less than a month before the November election -- sat down with moderator Jim Lehrer on stage at Wake Forest University's Wait Chapel for the second of three presidential debates.

A group of 26 undecided voters assembled by CNN in suburban St. Louis judged Bush the clear winner of the debate -- which focused heavily on international policy before moving on to domestic issues such as education, gun laws, the environment and health care. Only two voters found Gore had won the debate, while 12 thought the Texas governor had come out on top.

Gore campaign chairman William Daley stressed his belief that most undecided voters won't make their final judgments until watching all three debates.

"This was the format that the governor wanted," said Daley. "There are three debates and I think the American people are going to make a decision after they see all three formats, the next one being a town-hall meeting where the citizens of America will get a chance to ask questions."

Seemingly taking a cue from their running mates -- Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican Dick Cheney -- who engaged in an unusually subdued debate during their sole encounter last week -- Bush and Gore dropped the sighs and one-line zingers that characterized their first debate in Boston and focused on the issues.

"I think these things are healthy for democracy, I think they are healthy for the process and I think it was an informative discussion this evening. That's what we all say we want in campaigns today, not just soundbites and 30-second advertising," Daley told CNN.

The first 40 minutes of the debate focused exclusively on international policy, as Gore and Bush fielded questions about the proper interventionist role of the U.S. military in global hot spots and shared their views on the Middle East, Yugoslavia and Africa.

"[Gov. Bush] showed his knowledge of these foreign policy issues... he had command of the facts, he had command of the regions," says Retired Gen. Colin Powell  

The two agreed on many points, including the need to avoid U.S. arrogance in wielding power.

"There were differences," Daley argued. "It was ironic that the governor talked about foreign policy and basically supported every foreign policy endeavor of the Clinton-Gore administration ... it's pretty easy to know something about foreign policy when you agree with the other guy the whole time."

Retired Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Bush went a long way in dispelling perceptions that he lacks the knowledge and intellectual capacity to handle an international crisis.

"He showed his knowledge of these foreign policy issues ... he had command of the facts, he had command of the regions," Powell told CNN. "I think that's going to impress a lot of people."

"He went with the vice president toe-to-toe," he added.

A CNN "flash poll" conducted immediately after the forum showed that many viewers were also impressed with Bush's performance. Of 532 registered voters who watched the debate, 49 percent said that the Texas governor did a better job, while 38 percent thought Gore fared better.

But a number of analysts thought the vice president made some headway criticizing Bush's record in Texas, arguing that the governor blocked hate crimes legislation and presides over a state that ranks last in health insurance for families and next to last for raising children.

"I assume those numbers are correct, because the governor was asked twice tonight to respond to those statistics and refused to challenge them. That is a record on health care that the American people should know about," said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Connecticut.

Dodd's fellow senator from Connecticut, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, will travel to Texas on Thursday in a bid to draw attention to the state of health care, education and the environment in the Lone Star State.

His rival, GOP vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney, disputed assertions that the Bush had neglected those issues during his six years in office.

"Texas is a large industrial state with a rapidly growing population. We have not solved all the problems in Texas, but we've certainly made major progress and the record is a good one," Cheney told CNN.

"The ultimate judgment on his performance as governor of Texas are the the people of Texas. In the last election, after four years in office, they gave him an overwhelming election mandate," he continued.

Where do Bush and Gore stand on issues of importance to Europe? Launch our Interactive Guide.

View the latest tracking poll or dig into our poll archives.


Watch selected policy speeches and campaign commercials from the major presidential candidates.

See where George W. Bush and Al Gore stand on the major issues.

Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? What are the presidential primary results and exit polls? Find out with these state political and election facts.

Get Election 2000 zip code searchable candidate biographies and other material for races for governor, Senate and House in our Election Guide.

How much money have the candidates raised? Here are their quarterly reports to the Federal Election Commission.

If you need to know who's up in 2000 and what seats are open, launch this quick guide.

WEB WHITE AND BLUE is a partner in the Web White and Blue rolling cyber-debate, a daily online exchange among the major presidential candidates. Look for twice-daily updates Sunday through Friday until election day.


Thursday, October 12, 2000


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