Trail Dust: The Great Debates

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," September 25, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: The upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates are the topic of this week's trail dust.

After much haggling, or at least some haggling, the Bush (search) and Kerry (search) camps have agreed to a series of debates over the next few weeks. Here's the schedule.

The first debate is next Thursday in Miami (search), and will focus on national security. And this is the one that I think the Bush campaign should have saved for the last, because it pushes strongest issue, and Kerry, if he does well on national security, might get a real boost at a critical time for him.

But Mort, can I disabuse you and everybody else of what I think is a myth? And the myth is that debates really determine the outcome of elections. They just haven't done that.

I mean, there've been some decisive victories in the debates, when Gerald Ford (search) lost, remember the one in San Francisco when he declared Eastern Europe free of Soviet domination and so on? But they, they really don't change anybody's mind, for the most part. It's just, you know, those, and it'll happen this time, those are who are for Bush will think he did great, those who are for Kerry will think he did great.

These debates are going to be a little different because we won't have any of the hijinks like Al Gore, remember when he, Al Gore, stalked Bush in that 200 debate? Now they have to stay behind their podiums. And they should.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Yes. Well, I, I think that the Bush people probably figure that this is the best-watched debate, the first...


KONDRACKE: ... debate usually is, and then it's downhill from there. I'm not sure that...

BARNES: Always is.

KONDRACKE: ... on -- well, I'm not sure that that's going to be the case this time. I think interest is really high, and I, I'd like to see it, it build, actually. I don't know that it will. Anyway... you're right on the hijinks.


KONDRACKE: I mean, the two campaigns produced this 32-page, what amounts to prenuptial agreement...


KONDRACKE: ... that, that requires everybody to stay in their corner, and, you know, no walking around, no wide shots, and stuff.

Now, on the, the questioners, I, I think that Jim Lehrer and Gwen Ifill and Bob Schieffer and Charlie Gibson are wonderful people, and, you know, and I'm sure that they'll, they'll do a very good job. But I think that, you know, I'd like to see a debate in which the best question askers in journalism get to be there, Tim Russert of NBC...


KONDRACKE: ... Brit, our own Brit Hume, and that guy who asked that dynamite question in 1984 of Ronald Reagan, you know, Reagan, why don't you go to church? Remember that guy? That was you.

BARNES: Yes, well, there is you, I don't know what you're asking there, Mort. The, I know what you're asking. You're asking Mondale about how he can justify the nuclear freeze, one of the worst ideas we ever had.

KONDRACKE: Well, and I also asked Ronald Reagan what would he do if, if Ferdinand Marcos got into trouble...


KONDRACKE: ... which he was not yet been in, and, and ... he said he would defend Ferdinand Marcos, which is presume, proceeded not to do.

BARNES: Right, yes.

KONDRACKE: OK. Let's take a look at this week's battleground polls. Fox News polled in some key swing states earlier in the week, and here are some of the results.

Pennsylvania, we're moving back to Kerry, John Kerry's column. He has a 3-point lead there, up 5 points since ... our June poll. Gore won Pennsylvania by 4 points in 2000.

President Bush picks up Iowa. He's 3 points up there over Kerry. Kerry'd been leading since May in that state. Gore won Iowa by roughly, roughly 4,000 votes in 2000.

In Florida, the latest Gallup poll has Bush up by 3 points. We think Bush is indeed leading there, but we want to wait until some post-hurricane polls for a more accurate picture.

And take a look at New Jersey. It's not a, not really a battleground state traditionally. It's all tied up at 48. Kerry had a 10-point lead in the Garden State before the GOP convention. Gore won New Jersey by 15 points in 2000. We think Kerry will win here, but he'll have to spend more time and money than he planned.

BARNES: You know, it's the Jim McGreevey case that has helped Bush and ... and hurt Kerry in New Jersey, you know, the governor's resigning. OK.

So Iowa goes to Bush, and Pennsylvania goes to Kerry this week, at least for now. Our Electoral Scoreboard, Bush 313, Kerry 225.

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