Kerry Facing Uphill Debate Battle

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Sept. 29, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "The Big Story With John Gibson" weeknights at 5 p.m. ET!

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Hi, everybody. This is THE BIG STORY. I'm John Gibson.

They've spent months bashing each other long distance, now President Bush and John Kerry (search) are a day away from facing off in their first debate at the University of Miami. The President is in Florida already; Senator Kerry will be there soon…

Millions of voters will be watching tomorrow night's debates, some still undecided. Each candidate will have a huge opportunity to try to win their support.

Let's talk about that with Bush-Cheney Press Secretary Scott Stanzel (search) and Kerry Campaign Senior Advisor Michael Meehan (search). Michael, let me go to you first. John Kerry kind of has a problem: these latest rounds of polls show that voters trust President Bush on Iraq. What is Kerry to do?

MICHAEL MEEHAN, KERRY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR: Well, these polls think that 60 percent of our country thinks we're in a bad situation in Iraq. We're clearly looking forward to a plan that actually works. The plan the President's used for the last 16 months hasn't worked. We haven't had enough troops over there; we don't have the equipment over there; we don't have a plan to win the peace.

So, each one of these polls show that people are more and more concerned about what's our plan to win the peace.

GIBSON: Scott Stanzel, there are so many people who are saying, "Look, the President's got a bit of a lead, especially on sort of the inside questions of the polls, but he doesn't dare stand pat; that he probably should get more detailed about his plans for Iraq." Will he?

SCOTT STANZEL, BUSH-CHENEY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, you've heard the President lay out his vision. In fact, last week, John Kerry sort of had a little bit of "me too-ism" when he talked about his ideas for the plan on Iraq, which almost mirror what the President is doing.

In fact, we are bringing peace and security to Iraq by training Iraqis to take control of the security situation; we are rebuilding the nation; we are bringing the international community together so we can have elections in January.

But what we've seen from John Kerry is just ever-shifting positions. It's almost as if he's waking up in the morning, reading the morning news and deciding what his position of the day will be.

GIBSON: Michael Meehan, other experts are saying, "Look, what Kerry's got to do is knock Bush off stride to make him look like he doesn't quite have the surefootedness a president should." How would he do that?

MEEHAN: Well we saw today in the paper the CIA says Iraq is not more peaceful and more stable. Each day we've learned more sadly, bad news about the circumstances in Iraq.

GIBSON: Right.

MEEHAN: John Kerry's going...

GIBSON: But...

MEEHAN: John, let just finish the whole sentence.

GIBSON: But Michael, I've got to tell you, this is something that's been said over and over and over for a week. It's gaining no traction. This is not working this line.

MEEHAN: Here's the first chance for these two men to stand face-to- face. The plan the president's had for 16 months hasn't worked. The CIA today in the paper say it's less safe than it was before. John Kerry called for allies to be brought in to help secure Iraq.

GIBSON: And they said they wouldn't do it.

MEEHAN: Because they've had problems with this president going at it alone.

GIBSON: Because they don't like George Bush, so we should fire George Bush, because the allies don't like him?

MEEHAN: Tony Blair, our other biggest ally in this effort, said big mistakes were made; this president hasn't said that at all.

GIBSON: Michael, so there's Kerry saying to Bush, "You've turned Iraq into a quagmire," — I'll do Michael's lines — "it gets worse every day. You won't face reality." What's Bush say?

STANZEL: Well, the president — we're sort of struck by the fact that John Kerry's magical plan to bring other countries into this effort in Iraq to bring peace and stability to the country, is based upon the idea that he can get countries involved when he's called the coalition, the coalition the coerced and bribed.

Just last week he offended Prime Minister Allawi...

GIBSON: Yes, but Scott, Michael might be right about this. If Bush is gone, these so-called allies, our former friends, might be willing to help a new guy.

STANZEL: I don't think we've seen any evidence of that. We have 30 countries in Iraq that are working hand-in-hand to bring freedom to a troubled part of the world, so we can continue to address these threats overseas and not wait till they come to our shores.

GIBSON: Michael Meehan, what about the personality issue? People just like George Bush, they feel comfortable with him, evidently — we hear people say that. And they find Mr. Kerry sort of, aloof, austere and distant.

MEEHAN: Yes, I think tomorrow you're going to see about 50 million or 60 million Americans will get a good look for themselves how John Kerry matches up evenly. This is a knock our opponents have been saying about John Kerry in every race that he's run statewide. And he's won them all.

I think tomorrow's a big opportunity for us to put our case before the American people directly.

GIBSON: Scott, is the President going to pay attention to John Kerry at all? Or is he just going to talk to the American people?

STANZEL: Well, I think one of the things he will do tomorrow night is lay out the difference in visions. We're interested to see what vision that is that John Kerry brings, with all of his various positions, on the war in Iraq. But the President will point out the differences. The president wants to stay on the offense and confront the terrorists overseas and not wait until they come to our shores.

GIBSON: All right. Well, we can hardly wait. Tomorrow night is coming on us fast.

Scott Stanzel, thanks. Michael Meehan, thank you. Appreciate you guys.

Content and Programming Copyright 2004 Fox News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.