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All-in-One Debate Blog: Round 3

Editor's Note: The following blog is a "best of" compilation from viewpoints expressed by Paul Begala and Robert Novak, co-hosts of CNN's political debate program "Crossfire," sprinkled with observations from comedian Jessi Klein from VH1's "Best Week Ever." We hope you enjoy this live presentation of tonight's presidential debate. Please send us your views by typing them in the "Share Your Comments" box to the right.

At least I could hear them...

CNN's Paul Begala, left, VH1's Jessi Klein, center, and CNN's Robert Novak.
• Audio Slide Show: Debate history
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Posted: 10:55 p.m. ET
From Jessi Klein, VH1

Well everyone, I have to say I really didn't find the substance of this debate to be very much different from the first one in Miami, even though they were talking about nominally different issues. However, both candidates were definitively louder. And if there's one quality I desire in a president, it's the ability to speak in a grating tone at a high volume.

Did anyone else notice that by the end of the debate, the audience in the hall looked almost bored to tears? I don't necessarily blame them, but they certainly seemed excited the minute it was over and they could all jump up to get photos with these guys. Undecided voters, once again, I plead with you: if you can dress yourself in the morning, surely you must be able to make up your minds by now. We really just need to make sure we actually elect someone this year, and it needs to be someone we can trust. Hilary Duff is reading scripts at this very moment.

Thanks for taking a break from the playoffs and reading my blog. Remember to vote!

A good debate

Posted: 10:48 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Good debate. The press will say it's a draw, but I think Kerry bested Bush -- or rather Bush made a few errors. Two words for President Bush: anger management. He spent much of the debate nearly yelling at the audience.

About two-thirds of the way through he calmed down, used a little humor. But overall he hectored more than visited with people. Kerry was much more conversational, certainly not the pedantic, pompous senator some expected.

Nice tie

Posted: 10:35 p.m. ET
From Jessie Klein, VH1

Linda, a woman in a nice red jacket, just asked Bush to list three mistakes he's made in the course of his presidency. That's an interesting and intelligent question. I don't think she meant it in as loaded a way as Bush just took it.

Anyway, nice job Linda. Maybe I'll write you in for president. I'll tell you one mistake Bush didn't make -- the selection of his tie tonight. It's very flattering.

Bush can't name a mistake

Posted: 10:34 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Kerry's going right at Bush on the issue of mistakes. He's hammering Bush for the way he went to war. Then he admitted he's made mistakes in how he's talked about the war, while Bush made mistakes in how he went to war.

Bush was asked to name three mistakes he's made. He can't name one. Breathtaking arrogance. He's had the hardest job in the world for almost four years and he cannot name a single mistake. Either he's the Second Coming of the Messiah, or he's so damned arrogant he's dangerous.

Struggle over mistakes

Posted: 10:33 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Bush is struggling with the question about wrong decisions he has made.

Backstreet Boys ban

Posted: 10:31 p.m. ET
From Jessi Klein, VH1

I find it extremely ironic that Bush says that personal opinion should not be a tool in the interpretation of the Constitution, when he's the one who's lobbying for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. If that doesn't stem from personal opinion, I don't know what does.

The fact that Kerry did not jump on that is frustrating. Look, if I was president, of course I'd want an amendment banning boy bands, but it just wouldn't be right and I wouldn't do it. Then again...I don't want to paint myself into a corner on this one. Let me think about it.

Bush defends pro-life

Posted: 10:30 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Bush's answer was a good defense of the pro-life position. Now as Kerry answers, he is answering to Bush again instead of the audience.

Kerry 'heartfelt' on religion

Posted: 10:29 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Missouri has a very strong pro-life movement, well represented tonight. The woman who asked Kerry about federal funding for abortion was poised and clear and strong. A far cry from the hysterics you usually see in the national media when abortion is covered.

Kerry's answer is sensitive. It's one of the few times he's talked about his religion in public -- and it's clearly heartfelt.

Bush says "I'm trying to decipher that." I (obviously) like Kerry. But even still I thought his answer was sensitive, and Bush's attempt at humor was callous.

Kerry's pro-choice argument

Posted: 10:29 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Kerry's answer about abortion is the best pro-choice argument he has made.

The Bush litmus test

Posted: 10:26 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Supreme Court: A guy asked Bush who'd he appoint to the Supreme Court. "I'm not tellin'." he said. Good use of humor. But I cringed when he said, "I want 'em all votin' for me." Is that a reference to Florida? To the Supreme Court case that put him in office?

He says he'll only appoint judges who oppose slavery. Wow, that's a great litmus test. Only anti-slavery judges for Bush. There goes David Duke's vote.

Bush misses opportunity

Posted: 10:26 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

didn't hear Bush mention Thomas or Scalia in his answer about the Supreme Court. The president also missed a chance to attack the senator on holding up judges in the Senate. Kerry's nose will grow if he says he won't name a liberal.

Bush incoherent on stem cell question

Posted: 10:22 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Careful, senator. A woman asked him about embryonic stem cell research from what is plainly a very pro-life position.

Good. Kerry is showing great respect for her values and her religion. And he's plainly energized by the prospects of the research.

Bush just said categorically, "Embryonic stem cell research destroys a life. I am the first president to fund embryonic stem cell research."

Huh? He said it's killing, but he's funding it? That's incoherent. That's our Bush.

Sneak and peek

Posted: 10:17 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Kerry just said he is against "sneak and peek" searches under the Patriot Act. How much you want to bet Bush thinks "sneak and peek" is a panty raid?


Posted: 10:17 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Uh-oh. John Kerry is off-balance with this stem cell question. I knew he was going to bring up Nancy Reagan immediately and Michael J. Fox next.

Which side is Kerry on?

Posted: 10:16 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Kerry wants it both ways on the Patriot Act. Kerry is doing the left wing criticism while at the same time saying he supports it.

Why stop pandering?

Posted: 10:16 p.m. ET
From Jessi Klein, VH1

Kerry just said he cannot promise to stop the outsourcing of jobs because it would be pandering. But isn't that what he's been doing the whole time? Could he at least just continue to pander for the rest of this debate to keep me happy? Why should we get started talking about hard truths at this late point in the game?

On another note -- Kerry just said Bush has authorized sneak and peek searches as part of the Patriot Act. Now, wait a minute, that doesn't sound that bad to me. Who doesn't like an occasional sneak 'n' peek?

The weird turns pro

Posted: 10:14 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Hunter S. Thompson famously said, "When the going gets tough, the weird turns pro." Bush is definitely a pro.

Kerry referred to a timber company that pays Bush $84. I have no idea what he's talking about -- and neither did Bush. After ridiculing Kerry's argument by asking incredulously, "I own a timber company," he paused for an awkwardly long time. Then he asked Charlie Gibson, "You wanna buy some wood?"

Definitely weird.

Flammable pandas

Posted: 10:08 p.m. ET
From Jessi Klein, VH1

This is beautiful. Bush just said that the administration before him endangered the environment by not making sure the forests were properly "harvested" in order to protect them from wildfires.

That's just beautiful. I have to say that's very comforting -- I've always considered the wetlands to be a real fire hazard. You know what else is very flammable? Panda bears. They're bone dry. We got at least two or three of those suckers at our national zoos. It's sad, but we should probably kill them for the sake of the greater good.

Kerry hits on 'Orwellian' language

Posted: 10:08 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Kerry's giving you the sense he's the Man with the Plan. He just ripped through his 3-point jobs plan. Now he's into his health care plan. If voters want a plan, he's there for them. It'll be interesting to see if voters come away with the sense that he's got good ideas.

Kerry clearly cares a lot about the environment, but hasn't talked about it much in the campaign. He nailed Bush for the Orwellian language Bush uses on the environment, education, etc.

In the middle of his answer, Kerry pointed to "Nicki" in the audience and brought her back in. Nice touch.

What's left?

Posted: 10:08 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

It sounds like both candidates have pretty much depleted their material with almost half an hour left to go in the debate.

'Off-road diesel engines?'

Posted: 10:06 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Environment: Bush began by simply saying, "Off-road diesel engines." Huh? Where's the verb, sir? He's throwing out a lot of jargon and Orwellian language, like "Healthy Forest Initiative."

The question was about air and water, and he's talking about how chopping down trees is the answer.

Kerry gets honest laugh

Posted: 10:01 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Kerry just got the first honest laugh -- and it was not an attack line. It was an affectionate reference to Charlie Gibson, saying Charlie would be the only person other than Bush and Kerry who'd pay the higher tax rate under Kerry.

Remember when Bush jumped ugly with Charlie? I said the audience wouldn't like it -- the audience identifies with Charlie. Now Kerry has shared a laugh with Charlie -- much more human, much more pleasant.

Kerry soothes voters on spending

Posted: 9:59 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Kerry was asked a very direct question. A guy asked him to look into the camera and promise he won't raise taxes on people making less than $200,000. He said yes. Unequivocally. Can't get any clearer than that.

He also said he's trimmed back on some of his favorite spending programs, which should be soothing to voters worried that he's a big spender.

Bush hits the 'L-word'

Posted: 9:52 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Bush is clearly programmed to get on the L-word. Kerry's response is to say Bush isn't a compassionate conservative.

You can bet you will hear Bush repeat the L-Word again and again tonight -- and through November 2.

Bush just said, "The National Journal has rated Sen. Kennedy the number one most liberal senator."

Mr. President, you're not running against Ted Kennedy. You're running against John Kerry.

A woman just put Kerry on the spot over Edwards being a trial lawyer. Kerry's ready for it. Says he has a plan for tort reform, but more important, a plan to lower the health care costs for folks in the audience.

Bush is licking his chops. He truly hates trial lawyers.

This is a strikingly negative debate. I'm very surprised.

Bush just ripped into Kerry, then finished with a wink. He's clearly feeling like a cocky frat-boy.

Direct address

Posted: 9:52 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Bush is addressing Kerry directly for the first time. Now he is repeating himself again.


Posted: 9:51 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Is Bush getting too rough?

Hatred of lawyers

Posted 9:50 p.m. ET
From Jessi Klein, VH1

OK, why did this woman just ask how Kerry could reconcile affordable health insurance with choosing a VP who's a malpractice lawyer? Our country's hatred of lawyers drives me nuts. Everyone wants to say they hate lawyers, and yet I've never met a parent who didn't want their kid to be a lawyer.

More importantly, it makes me shudder every time either of these guys says "OB-GYN." It's just wrong. They should just say "lady doctor." It would be less gross.

First domestic question

Posted: 9:47 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Kerry again cited a Bush broken promise from the 2000 campaign, reminding people that he said in 2000 that importing drugs from Canada made sense. Kerry is strong on this one -- it's much more a Democratic issue.

Kerry's on offense. Bush is on defense.

First domestic question: Why, Mr. President, did you ban importation of prescription drugs from Canada?

Bush's answer raised the lame defense that they're not safe. Sure, that's why all those Canadians are dropping like flies everytime they pop a Xanax.

Bush calms down

Posted: 9:42 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Bush has finally gotten control of himself. He cited his Homeland Security budget in response to Kerry's criticism that Bush preferred a tax cut to homeland security. And he's doing it in a conversational way. Maybe his outburst a moment ago got it out of his system.

Deja vu

Posted: 9:42 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Bush didn't answer Gibson's question, either.

Don't fear the Canadians

Posted: 9:42 p.m. ET
From Jessi Klein, VH1

Is anyone truly worried that cheaper prescription drugs from Canada might "kill us"? I appreciate Bush's concern, but I have greater fears. See the previous entry on Hilary Duff.

Tough question, no answer

Posted: 9:41 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Kerry didn't answer Gibson's question about whether a terrorist attack is inevitable, which is a tough one.

Kerry not speaking 'Senate-ese'

Posted: 9:41 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Did Kerry just say "we got a whole buncha countries" and, "Lookit..."

He's actually speaking American, not Senate-ese.

Kerry launched a guided missile, saying that if Missouri were a nation, it'd be the third largest country in our coalition. Beautiful. Clintonian. Instead of burying us in facts and figures, he had one telling, killer anecdote.

Are we there yet?

Posted: 9:37 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

This is a key Kerry theme that they are cheating security to give tax cuts to the rich and it took him 35 minutes to get there.

The 'Internets?'

Posted: 9:37 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Bush just said: "I hear there's rumors on the Internets." Is there some secret second Internet I don't know about? Perhaps that's where Bush gets the information that tells him things are so peachy in Iraq and the economy's strong. He's living in his own Private Idaho, apparently reading things on his own private Internet.

Kerry is walking closer to the audience than Bush is. There's a piece of red tape that the candidates are not supposed to cross. You can't see it on TV, but if Kerry's ignoring it in order to get closer to the audience, good for him.

The town hall format requires the candidates to actually have a conversation -- not with each other, but rather with the audience members.


Posted: 9:33 p.m. ET
From Jessi Klein, VH1

Did Bush just refer to rumors of a draft floating around on the "Internets"? That's pretty paranoid -- as far as I know the rumor has only reached one Internet.

Bush pleased with himself

Posted: 9:31 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Bush seemed extremely pleased with himself to be able to tell you about how the generals said, "Yes, sir Mr. President." But he didn't respond to Kerry's point that Bush ignored the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Shinseki, who said they'd need 200,000 troops to successfully occupy Iraq. Because the truth is, he ignored Gen Shinseki, despite his comment that he always listens to his generals.


Posted 9:30 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Just why he is talking about Iran I don't have any idea.

Lower your voice

Posted 9:28 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Bush really needs to lower the register of his voice. He's pleading, trying to hard, almost yelling. He bit off and spat out the name of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi like it was a stale piece of garlic bread.

Kerry's counter was more calm than he was a few minutes ago. And a lot more calm than Bush. All over America people are asking, "Who is this angry man, and what have they done with that pleasant Mr. Bush?"

Urban myth

Posted: 9:24 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

That is an urban myth about Gen. Shinseki. It was repeated in Florida and Bush didn't challenge him on it.

Kerry on fire

Posted: 9:22 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

Kerry's using comments from GOP Senators Lugar and Hagel against Bush. His quotes are accurate, and they hurt Bush. What do you suppose Bush is thinking? Whatever it is, you can imagine it's not publishable on a family blog.

Kerry is on fire. He's putting the wood to Bush like a wayward pledge at the Deke house. Bush just said the Iraqi finance minister was optimistic, but then he turned on the TV and it made him pessimistic. Huh? If he's that big a weenie, what's he doing in Baghdad?

Angry responses

Posted: 9:17 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

The first question to Bush was, like the one to Kerry, right at his vulnerability. Bush, too, has his answer down pat. But he's too angry, he's speechifying, his voice is rising. He shouldn't be hectoring and yelling at these people. Why isn't Bush connecting like the genial governor I knew in Texas?

Kerry's response to Bush is just about as angry as Bush's. Both of these guys need to be more conversational. They're jacked up on adrenaline and, to tell you the truth, looks like they just don't like each other.

Global test

Posted: 9:16 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

I wondered how long it would take before he brought up the global test. That is his best issue.

Can you hear me now?

Posted: 9:15 p.m. ET
From Jessi Klein, VH1

I love that Bush is totally straight faced using his brand new "oil for food violation" justification for the war which he just came up with in the last 24 hours now that his own administration admits there was no WMD. Why not just say that our army "needed the exercise"?

I'd write more, but I have to watch Kerry turn this question about Iraq into a series of unrelated sentences about the economy. Kerry seems to be talking louder this go-round. That's such a classic American move--it's what we do when we want someone who doesn't understand our language to understand us.


Posted: 9:15 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Bush has got Kerry on the defensive.

Kerry prepared for flip-flop question

Posted: 9:12 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

The first question went right to Kerry's greatest weakness: are you wishy-washy? Kerry seems to want it -- he obviously has prepared this one many times. He's going through issues quickly: Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind. Even more than the specifics, he's trying to project a sense of strength and certainty. He doesn't seem at all nervous.

Bush, too, wants this question. He's gone through his litany of Kerry flip-flops. But there's great risk in being too negative. I think he'd be better off doing fewer specifics on Kerry's flip-flops and instead telling the questioner what he stands for.

He said his tax cut is "right up the middle class." If I were a more scatalogical person I might take it the wrong way

Better start

Posted: 9:11 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Bush is off to a better start than his performance in Florida.

Straight face?

Posted: 9:10 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Bush is trying not to make faces.

Town hall limitations

Posted: 9:06 p.m. ET
From Robert Novak, CNN

Don't expect the spin that Bush is a master of the town hall and Kerry is a master at it. They both have their limitations in this forum.

Let's get ready to rumble...

Posted: 8:59 p.m. ET
From Jessi Klein, VH1

Dear Readers,

Thanks once again to those of you who need a break from Begala's and Novak's gravitas, and are looking for someone asking more probing questions into the presidential race, such as why neither Bush nor Kerry have yet to present a plan to deal with the ever growing Hilary Duff threat. If Bush was willing to use pre-emptive action on Iraq, why did he allow "Raise Your Voice" to hit theaters? It just seems inconsistent to me.

Tonight is a "town hall" format, with the two men sitting on stools, which I have to admit makes me uncomfortable on a variety of levels. It's impossible not to look awkward sitting on a stool, and these guys are already way too awkward. But even worse is when they try to move around and show how tall they are. That's always so degrading.

Alright. Let's get ready to rumble.

Sox win a good omen

Posted : 8:33 p.m. ET
From Paul Begala, CNN

We're 30 minutes before the debate, and I can tell you, John Kerry is one happy man. No, not because the latest Time magazine poll shows the race tied. Not even because the latest Associated Press poll shows Kerry up by 4. No, Kerry's happy because his beloved Red Sox just defeated the Anaheim Angels with a dramatic, 10th inning walk-off home run by David Ortiz.

Both Kerry and Bush are huge baseball fans, and baseball fans are superstitious. I'm sure Kerry sees the Sox win as a good omen.

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