This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Sept. 17, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Most polls still have the presidential race neck and neck. But a new one from Gallup has President Bush with a, get that, 13 point lead in the head-to-head match up. Is the President pulling away?

Democratic Strategist Mary Anne Marsh (search) and Republican Strategist Ed Rogers (search) join me now to talk about the campaign.

I guess, Ed, you would say, "Yeah, he's pulling away and brilliantly so."

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: A good poll is better than a bad poll at this stage of the game, but you got some polls with Bush with a big league, some with the race about even. You split the difference, yeah, Bush has probably got a healthy lead right now, but the race is going to be close. Sure, keep an eye on the polls. We'll see what happens.

GIBSON: Mary Anne, I would think the Gallup poll's a little worrying. That is a very steady poll over the years; it's not given to wild fluctuations. And it's considered pretty reliable.

MARY ANNE MARSH, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, there's always a first time, but I actually agree with that. I think the reality, the way to look at the polls right now, is Bush has slipped a bit more since the convention, that he got a big bounce out of. The race has tightened; same is true in the battleground states.

I think it's a very competitive race right through the end.

GIBSON: Mary Anne, do you think that this — we haven't heard much about it today, but it's been raging for the last couple of days — this controversy about the document that CBS produced on the President's National Guard service. Do you think that's actually hurt John Kerry?

MARSH: I don't think it's hurt or helped per se. I think it's now all about CBS more than anything else. I think what is starting to hurt the President though, when you start looking at these polls is the reality of what's going on in Iraq. And I think Kerry's trying to make a case out of that now and I think that's what he needs to do to beat Bush.

People are looking at the chaos and the killing going on over there. They know Bush is in charge, it's getting worse not better, and if Kerry can capitalize upon that and beat Bush on Iraq, which has been this race the way Bush has defined it, then Kerry's got then the opportunity to convince people he can do a better job on that and health care.

GIBSON: While I ask Ed first — I know you'll think of your own answer — Ed, what is the President's plan for Iraq? And Mary Anne will tell me what John Kerry's plan is in a minute, but you go first.

ROGERS: Well, first of all, the plan isn't to cut and run. The plan isn't to hope for the worst. The plan isn't to do anything other than support our troops and support the political initiatives there and to see this thing through and to finish the job.

Kerry has said everything conceivable about Iraq and he has no credibility; he's been all over the map. It is part of what is hurting him from the character standpoint now, that he is not consistent on this, on economic policy and other things and that's part of the reason he's...

GIBSON: But Ed, just to get it straight: do you know if the President has a plan beyond the elections in January? Are we just getting to the elections and then be able to say to the Iraqis, "OK. You got a government. You're on your own. See you."

ROGERS: Well, I wouldn't think so, but I'm not privy to the national security policies and the military policies that the White House formulates within the White House. But having said that, if this President is nothing if not consistent; this president is nothing if not resolute. The notion that we're going to cut and run, the notion that we're going to put the troops in harm's way, the notion that we're going to anything but make the Americans...

GIBSON: OK. Mary Anne, now I know you want to take a whack at George Bush for the way he's handled Iraq. You don't think it was right and so forth. Let's just agree that you've got those points on the record right now.

MARSH: Thanks John.

GIBSON: Tell me what is it John Kerry plans to do in Iraq, even a morning talk show host the other morning couldn't seem to get it out of him.

MARSH: Well, I'm going to answer it better than Ed answered for Bush. I think what you saw Chuck Hagel, John McCain, Richard Lugar, all Republican senators and the military leaders George Bush has chosen not to listen to, they are all asking for more troops. So you have little choice at this point.

One, you pray everyday it doesn't get any worse — it's hard to imagine it could — so you really have two choices: more troops in Iraq to try to finish the job and get control of the place, because it's not in control, or get out. In between you either have to train the Iraqi troops better and faster, but that doesn't seem to be working, so the only answer right now seems to be more troops.

GIBSON: OK. So, Mary Anne, if I got this straight, John Kerry is for more troops. So, when he talks about a National Guard call-up, he's really talking about a Kerry administration National Guard call-up?

MARSH: I don't know what his position ultimately is going to be, but I think what you have to believe here is that Kerry is now challenging Bush to tell the truth. And the truth is Hagel, McCain, Lugar, Republican senators and military leaders have been saying for weeks and months now, "We need more troops."

GIBSON: Ed, do you think we need more troops?

ROGERS: Well, I think that if we needed more troops, if our military leaders were asking for more troops, there's nobody that would be more responsive to that than President Bush. I think that's crazy.

When Kerry talks about more troops, he talks about one thing: he talks about France. He has this overwhelming affinity toward the French point of view and the notion that the world would be a much better place if only we had French participation or French veto over our foreign policy.

GIBSON: Ed Rogers, I can't let Mary Anne respond to that, because I'm out of time. But I know what she would say!

Mary Anne, I'm sorry. I'm sorry he got the French thing in.

All right. Ed Rogers, Mary Anne Marsh, thank you both.

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