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Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - Polls declare different victors in VP debate - Oct 6, 2004 - Polls declare different victors in VP debate - Oct 6, 2004

CLEVELAND, Ohio (CNN) -- Early polls indicated differing reactions to Tuesday night's debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. John Edwards.

An ABC News snap poll showed Cheney the winner, aided by a more-Republican audience, while a CBS News poll among undecided voters showed the opposite. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, Poll Tracker)

Cheney and Edwards engaged in a frequently pointed, though civil, discussion on Iraq, the war on terror, Afghanistan, same-sex marriage and malpractice liability caps.

In their only scheduled debate, Edwards charged that the Bush administration wasn't being candid and Cheney attacked the Democratic ticket's resolve and credibility.

Moderator Gwen Ifill's first question -- to Cheney -- was about the war in Iraq. Cheney said the world is safer today because of the war and the arrest of Saddam Hussein. He said if he had it to do all over again, he would recommend that the U.S. invade Iraq and remove Saddam from power.

"It's important to look at all of our developments in Iraq within the broader context of the global war on terror," Cheney said.

Edwards' response was pointed.

"Mr. Vice President, you are still not being straight with the American people," he said.

"I mean, the reality you and George Bush continue to tell people, first, that things are going well in Iraq -- the American people don't need us to explain this to them, they see it on their television every single day."

According to an ABC poll, 43 percent of registered voters said Cheney won, 35 percent gave the win to Edwards, and 19 percent called it a tie. Thirty-eight percent of the viewers were Republicans, 31 percent Democrats, the rest independents. The phone survey was conducted among a random sample of 509 registered voters who watched the debate.

CBS News' poll specifically focused on uncommitted voters and found 41 percent deemed Edwards the winner, 28 percent chose Cheney, and 31 percent said it was a tie. CBS based its poll on a "nationally representative sample of 178 debate watchers ... who are either undecided about who to vote for or who have a preference but say they could still change their minds."

Each side claimed victory immediately after the face-off. Mary Beth Cahill, Sen. John Kerry's campaign manager, said she thought Edwards won.

"I think that people looking at [Edwards tonight] found him tremendously convincing," she said.

Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager, disagreed.

"I thought it was a great debate, and I thought the vice president won."

Voters' reactions varied.

"I heard far more definitive answers than I heard from the previous debate between our presidential candidates," said Paul Jacobs of Ohio. 'I still heard too much 'he said, she said, you said' accusations, but there were some definitive answers to specific questions."

Felicia Dotson said she was disappointed by the debate on Iraq.

"They talked a lot about the war, but I would have liked to hear more about how and when we're going to pull the troops out and not how we got there," she said.

Iraq and 9/11
Both candidates sat at a table with Ifill, senior correspondent for PBS's "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." During the 90-minute event, no topic was off limits -- unlike last week's presidential debate, which was limited to foreign policy.

Edwards accused Cheney of falsely suggesting a link between Iraq and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Cheney denied doing so.

"The senator has got his facts wrong," Cheney said. "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11, but there's clearly an established Iraqi track record with terror."

When the debate turned to Afghanistan, Cheney said efforts to establish democracy there were progressing.

"We have President [Hamid] Karzai, who is in power," Cheney said. "They have done wonders writing their own constitution for the first time ever."

Edwards said someone "got it wrong" in Afghanistan.

"But it wasn't John Kerry and John Edwards. They got it wrong," Edwards said. "When we had Osama bin Laden cornered, they left the job to the Afghan warlords."

Some commanders believe bin Laden was in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan during intense fighting there in December 2001, but it isn't clear. Afghan forces did play a large role in the fighting.

Democratic campaigners are hoping Edwards can continue momentum fueled Thursday when Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry debated President Bush.

Kerry-Edwards supporters gave a prime seat in the audience to Sen. Patrick Leahy, at whom Cheney publicly directed an obscenity during an altercation in the Capitol in June, The Associated Press reported.

Leahy had criticized the vice president, reportedly about his links to Halliburton Co., the largest operator of government-funded contracts in Iraq. Leahy's prominent seat in the debate audience allowed Cheney a good look at the Democratic senator from Vermont, a dig at the vice president by the Kerry campaign.

Cheney left as chief executive of Halliburton in 2000, long before the Iraq war, and the Bush campaign has said that Halliburton had been a government contractor before Cheney became vice president.

Edwards said the company should not have "gotten a $7.5 billion no-bid contract in Iraq, and instead of part of their money being withheld, which is the way it's normally done, because they're under investigation, they've continued to get their money."

The U.S. Defense Department is investigating whether Halliburton overcharged for the fuel delivered to Iraqi civilians, and its Kellogg, Brown and Root subsidiary agreed to refund $27 million for potential overbillings at five dining halls in Iraq and Kuwait.

The investigative arm of Congress, the General Accountability Office, ruled that Halliburton's no-bid government contracts were legal and were awarded properly based on Pentagon wartime logistical needs.

Cheney said the Halliburton probe was a non-issue.

"It's an effort that they've made repeatedly to try to confuse the voters and to raise questions, but there's no substance to the charges," Cheney said.

Cheney also lauded the Bush administration's record on education.

"Forty-nine percent increase in funding for elementary and secondary education under No Child Left Behind," Cheney said. "That's a lot of money even by Massachusetts' standards."

"Yes," Edwards responded. "But they didn't fund the mandates that they put on the schools all over this country. That's the reason 800 teachers ... have been laid off, right here in Cleveland."

Malpractice liability caps
Ifill brought up Edwards' career as a trial lawyer and the North Carolina senator's opposition to caps on medical malpractice awards. Edwards won a record-setting $23 million verdict in 1997 in the case of a child who was brain-damaged at birth.

Cheney expressed support for liability caps but refused to characterize Edwards as "part of the problem," as stated in Ifill's question.

Edwards said, "John Kerry and I are always going to stand with the [victims] of this world and not with the insurance companies."

Cheney repeatedly accused Edwards of using factually inaccurate statements in his answers and responses.

Edwards got personal with Cheney when he said a Bush-proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages was wrong.

"I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter," Edwards said. "I think they love her very much and you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter [and] they're willing to embrace her."

"But we should not use the constitution to divide this country."

The vice president touched on Edwards' relative political inexperience as a one-term senator.

"Your rhetoric, senator, would be a lot more credible if there was a record to back it up," Cheney said. "There isn't."

Cheney accused Edwards of poor attendance in the Senate.

"Frankly, senator, you have a record that's not very distinguished."

Edwards, in response, defended his short tenure in the Senate.

"One thing that's very clear is that a long resume does not equal good judgment," Edwards said. "I mean, we've seen over and over and over the misjudgments made by this administration."

With less than a month before Election Day, the race appears to be very close. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Sunday indicated a dead heat -- 49 percent to 49 percent -- among likely voters. President Bush had led by 8 percentage points in a poll conducted a week earlier. (Poll puts Bush, Kerry about even)

The next presidential debate is Friday at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Topics are unlimited, and the event will take place under a "town hall" format, with Bush and Kerry fielding questions from undecided voters. Undecided voters are expected to be more crucial to victory in this election because of the thin margin separating the candidates in the polls.

The final presidential debate is set for October 13 in Tempe, Arizona. That event will be limited to domestic issues, such as the economy.

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