Transcript: Bush-Kerry Debate Preview

The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Sunday,' September 26, 2004:

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: It's the most anticipated political event of the year, the first presidential debate set for this Thursday.

For an insider's view of what to expect from the two candidates, we turned earlier this week to two men who have been there, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (search), who debated Kerry eight times during the 1996 Senate race, and former Democratic candidate Garry Mauro (search), who debated then-Governor Bush once when he ran for re-election in 1998.


Governor Weld, Mr. Mauro, welcome.

I'd like both of you to begin by giving us a scouting report, if you will, on your former opponent.

Gov. Weld, what are John Kerry's strengths and weaknesses as a debater?

FORMER GOVERNOR WILLIAM WELD, R-MA: I think his strength is that he knows the issues absolutely cold, particularly the domestic issues. And he's one of the most articulate people in public life, if not the most. The guy is a real wordsmith.

In debate, I think a particular strength of his is the ability to pivot and change the question to the topic that he really would prefer to discuss. So he's got, in a way, the force of Jujitsu. He can use his opponent's force against him.

WALLACE: Any weakness?

WELD: No, he may be a little bit academic on the issues, because he's so interested in the minutiae of public policies that it might be possible to draw him to meander a little bit. Some of the answers could perhaps be shorter.

WALLACE: Mr. Mauro, same kind of chalk talk. What does George W. Bush do well and not so well as a debater?

GARRY MAURO, FORMER TEXAS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, what George Bush will do really well — President Bush will be totally focused. He will be talking directly to the American people. He will be using the same themes he's practiced over and over and over again. There will be no surprises.

His weakness will be he won't be intellectually curious about anything anybody says. Now that's hard to say that's a weakness, because he will talk to the American people. He will ignore John Kerry, and it will be very interesting to see if anybody's able to engage him beyond what he wants to say to the American people.

WALLACE: Gov. Weld, in 1996, you had eight debates with John Kerry, and looking back, the thing that's remarkable about them is you pounded each other.

Let's take a look at some of the highlights.


KERRY: I think most of the criminals in this state are less frightened of you than they are of Inspector Clouseau. You have the most amazing — you have the most amazing ability to talk, talk but not perform.

The fact is, when you were attorney — U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, 1984, your record on drugs was the worst in the nation. Dead last.

WELD: I can't believe who I'm listening to. You're complaining about criminals being let out early. When you were lieutenant governor with Mike Dukakis (search), you were letting out murderers on furlough. You were sending home sex offenders for the weekend.


WALLACE: It's pretty entertaining stuff, Governor. In those eight debates, do you think you ever had John Kerry flustered, ever had him in trouble?

WELD: He was flustered once. Toward the end of the campaign, there was a debate in Springfield, and there had been an ethics issue had come up. And I said, "Well, Sen. Kerry, you accepted all that free housing from those people who might have had business before you. That raises an ethics issue."

I think he was a little bit flustered, but typically, he immediately changed the subject and said, "Ethics. I'll tell you what's an ethical question, Governor. An ethical question is when the children of this commonwealth go to bed hungry, when they can't get full health insurance, when there are people who don't have insurance in this state. And that's because of your leadership the last four — six years."

It was masterful. The guy's the past master of the art of changing the subject.

WALLACE: You say that he can take a punch. Let's take a look at another example of punch-counterpunch between the two of you from '96. Take a look.


WELD: If your name was John Sixpack instead of John Forbes Kerry, and you had to gas up your racing motorcycle and your speedboat and your airplane every weekend, as well as your cars, you would have thought twice before you would have proposed raising the gas tax.

KERRY: Governor, you switch your positions faster than your friend Dick Morris (search). This is amazing.


WALLACE: You know, it is remarkably combative. We should point out Dick Morris, of course, the somewhat controversial political consultant who was helping you in that campaign.

You know, you're a governor. Do you think he will be that combative with the president of the United States?

WELD: I think he will. I mean, you're playing for all the marbles. And when you're going for the Oval Office, you can't play the game too hard.

WALLACE: Mr. Mauro, your experience with Gov. Bush was very different. First of all, he was leading you by 40 points in the polls in 1998.

MAURO: Chris, it was really 35.

WALLACE: Second, you had a debate on a Friday night. That's what they insisted on, which of course is the night when everybody in Texas in the fall is watching high school football. But you did get one debate with him, one hour. Let's take a look at some of the highlights from your debate.


BUSH: Mr. Mauro's made $14 billion worth of promises. We've only got $8 billion worth to spend.

MAURO: My budget balances. No amount of political rhetoric will change it.

BUSH: What happens during the course of the campaign, candidates go out and they make a promise here, and they make a promise there, and they forget to total it up.


WALLACE: Was Gov. Bush just trying to stay out of trouble that night?

MAURO: Absolutely. But more importantly, Gov. Bush was not only trying to stay out of trouble, he was using the same lines, the same tried and true language he used during the entire campaign.

It's amazing. We went back and looked at the debate prep. Ninety-five percent of the answers we expected him to give he gave in the debate.

WALLACE: That doesn't seem to hurt him.


MAURO: I know the budget process backwards and forwards. My budget balances.

BUSH: Are you going to raise taxes, or who's not going to get the money?


WALLACE: How do you think the president, from your experience, will go after John Kerry and these so-called flip-flops of his, his inconsistencies?

MAURO: I think the things you're seeing the president say in his speeches right now, he's practicing for the first debate. You'll hear those same lines, that same line of attack in the debates, and they'll be almost identical to what you're hearing in the last couple of days' speeches.

WALLACE: From your experience — let me ask you both. Let's start with you, Mr. Mauro, debating these two men. How do you think President Bush and Sen. Kerry will match up?

MAURO: I think that it will be very difficult for Kerry to match up well with Bush for one reason: The eight debates they had in Massachusetts where they talked about in-depth issues and they really had the give-and-take, that's not the kind of debate we're going to have here.

We're going to have a debate here where Kerry's going to have one shot at talking to the American people. And there won't be a lot of give-and-take. And don't think he'll ever intellectually engage Bush. He will be talking directly to the American people. He will be an amplifier of his message, not a debater.

WALLACE: And Gov. Weld, same question. How do you think these two guys will match up?

WELD: They'll be very different. I mean, I think Sen. Kerry will bob and weave more. I think the president will just stick to his guns, stick to his ground. He's very comfortable with who he is and his positions. And he'll just pound straight ahead, three yards and a cloud of dust.

In a way, it's a little bit of a Cassius Clay versus Joe Frazier match up, with making the appropriate changes. But very different styles. It will be — pay to get in. Pay to get in for this one.

WALLACE: Gov. Weld, do you expect John Kerry to play the Vietnam card? Did he play it in your debates? And if so, how do you think he'll try to use that? The idea he went to war, he served the country, President Bush did not go to war.

WELD: Well, of course he'll play it. He'll play it whenever there's ground that he doesn't care to stand on. In the first debate, he was very effective. The first debate I had with him I asked him a question about the death penalty for cop killers, which is an emotional issue. And he immediately pivoted and said, "Well, I know something about killing. I killed this guy in Vietnam."

And it kind of took the fotrundled out in defense as well as on offense.

WALLACE: And Mr. Mauro, if Sen. Kerry does play that card, you know, "I've defended my country," how do you think the president will react?

MAURO: The president will have the same reaction he has in the speeches and in intercourse with the press right now. He won't be any different than he's been talking all along. It will not be a bob or a weave.

WALLACE: Based on your first-hand experience, Mr. Mauro, if you were going to give John Kerry one piece of advice on how to handle, how to go after — you know, how to do this debate against the president, what would it be?

MAURO: He has a message in his campaign, John Kerry does. He ought to use the same approach. It ought to be three yards and a cloud of dust for the president, and then he ought to go right back at him with three yards and a cloud of dust: "This is what I believe. This is what my vision for America is. This is what I'm going to do."

WALLACE: And Gov. Weld, if you were going to give the Bush camp one piece of advice of how to handle John Kerry, both what to do, what not to do, what would it be?

WELD: I'd say keep your dukes up. This guy is dangerous. He's so able that he could hurt you in debate, and you've got to pay attention to what he's — to what he's saying. So don't underestimate him just because you may have convinced some people that he's a flip- flopper.

But above all, be yourself. I think George Bush's great strength is his comfort in his own skin. And if people see him being himself and comfortable with his positions, that counts for a lot in a debate.

WALLACE: Gov. Weld, Mr. Mauro, thank you both so much for providing a unique perspective on what it is to debate these two guys. Thanks an awful lot.

MAURO: Thank you.

WELD: Thanks, Chris.