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Thursday, October 14, 2004

CNN > Bush, Kerry hit each other on domestic issues Battleground states ahead after candidates' final debate

TEMPE, Arizona (CNN) -- President Bush and Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry met on Wednesday for their final debate, clashing on issues ranging from the economy to jobs, taxes and same-sex marriage.
With the three debates over, the candidates planned to visit several battleground states to hammer home their messages in the final weeks before Election Day.
The first question of the debate from CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer to Kerry was about homeland security.
"Will our children and grandchildren live in a world that was as safe as ours?" Schieffer asked.
"Will we ever be safe and secure again? Yes, we absolutely must be," Kerry said. "That's the goal."
He then accused Bush of not doing enough as president to protect the nation from terrorism.
Bush agreed the United States can be a safe nation.
"Yes, we can be safe and secure, if we stay on the offense against the terrorists and if we spread freedom and liberty around the world," Bush said.
The face-off at Arizona State University is voters' final opportunity to get a lengthy look at Bush and Kerry side-by-side.
Senior Bush campaign adviser Karen Hughes emerged from the debate pleased by the president's performance and critical of his opponent's.
"It became very clear tonight [Kerry] has no plans," Hughes said. "He has a terminable list of complaints. Complaint after complaint after complaint."
Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said it was a "very bad night for President Bush."
"I think the president had a pretty rough time tonight because he can't acknowledge that any of the problems that the country has, from immigration to equal pay ... he was not able to one, acknowledge the problem admit a mistake, or say where he wants to lead the country," Cahill said.
Health care
The second question of the debate was heath care. The president was questioned about the shortage of flu vaccines in the United States at the beginning of the flu season.
Kerry used the vaccine question to criticize the president's health care policy.
"This really underscores the problem with the American health care system," Kerry said. "Five million Americans have lost their health insurance in this country."
After Kerry said he had a plan to expand health care for Americans, Bush said, "I want to remind people listening tonight that a plan is not a litany of complaints, and a plan is not to lay out programs that you can't pay for."
Kerry disputed that characterization.
"Every plan that I have laid out -- my health care plan, my plan for education, my plan for kids to be able to get better college loans -- I've shown exactly how I'm going to pay for those," Kerry said.
Some voters who watched the debate seemed lost.
"I wanted to hear some specifics, but what they say doesn't make any sense," Connie Narduzzo, 84, of Syracuse, New York told The Associated Press. "They just seem to go back and forth, throwing numbers at each other."
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released shortly after the debate indicated that more who watched it thought Kerry did a better job. Among the poll's 511 respondents, 53 percent said Kerry did better, and 39 percent said Bush did.
The poll represents the views of those who watched the face-off only, not all Americans. Also, opinions of the debate may change within the coming days. It's unclear how many respondents were Republicans, Democrats or independents.
Jobs and taxes
"Mr. President," Schieffer asked, "what do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who's being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States?"
"I'd say, Bob, I've got policies to continue to grow our economy and create the jobs of the 21st century," Bush said. "And here's some help for you to go get an education. Here's some help for you to go to a community college."
Kerry has proposed corporate tax incentives that aim to lessen the movement of U.S. jobs to other nations.
"I want you to notice how the president switched away from jobs and started talking about education principally," Kerry said.
"They've cut the training money," he said. "They've wound up not even extending unemployment benefits and not even extending health care to those people who are unemployed."
Bush also lauded his budget proposal.
"It requires pro-growth policies that grow our economy and [create] fiscal sanity in the halls of Congress."
Kerry delivered one of the first high-profile lines of the debate.
"Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country," Kerry said, reminding viewers of a ballooning federal deficit.
Bush countered: "My opponent talks about fiscal sanity. His record in the United States Senate does not match his rhetoric.
"He voted to violate the budget cap 277 times. You know, there's a mainstream in American politics, and you sit right on the far left bank."
When Bush accused Kerry of voting 98 times to increase taxes, Kerry implied that Bush was skewing the facts.
"Bob, anybody can play with these votes," Kerry said. "Everybody knows that. I have supported or voted for tax cuts over 600 times. I broke with my party in order to balance the budget, and Ronald Reagan signed into law the tax cut that we voted for. I voted for IRA tax cuts. I voted for small-business tax cuts."
Dennis Nelson, 52, an Army Vietnam veteran, watched the debate in Tampa, Florida.
"I'm really worried about the economy, so I was impressed with what Kerry said," Nelson told the AP. "But I don't know if it's political rhetoric or [there's] something that he can do. I'm still undecided, and probably will be until I go to the polls."
Same-sex unions
Schieffer asked the candidates if they believe homosexuality is a choice.
Bush pointed out that he has proposed a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.
"The reason I did so was because I was worried that activist judges are actually defining the definition of marriage, and the surest way to protect marriage between a man and woman is to amend the Constitution." Bush said.
Kerry, who also opposes same-sex marriage, responded, I "believe that because we are the United States of America, we're a country with a great, unbelievable Constitution, with rights that we afford people, that you can't discriminate in the workplace. You can't discriminate in the rights that you afford people."
Border with Mexico
The debate turned to security along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Bush outlined part of a plan to increase border security.
"I believe there ought to be a temporary worker card [for Mexicans who would otherwise illegally enter the U.S.] that allows a willing worker and a willing employer to mate up, so long as there's not an American willing to do that job, to join up in order to be able to fulfill the employers' needs."
Kerry tied the issue to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
"The borders are more leaking today than they were before 9/11," he said. "The fact is, we haven't done what we need to do to toughen up our borders, and I will."
Wrong, said Bush.
"The borders with Mexico are much better protected today than they were when I was the governor of Texas," the president said.
Poll indications
National surveys show the candidates running neck-and-neck. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, poll tracker)
After the debate, both candidates plan to focus on battleground states -- where polls show the race is so close that either man could win.
Bush is to hit spots in Nevada, Iowa and Florida, according to the AP.
Kerry is scheduled to visit Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio, the AP reported.
Numbers of debate viewers have been steadily dropping since the initial face-off on October 1. The first debate drew 62.5 million viewers, the second 46.7 million, according to the AP.

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