This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", Oct. 9, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: I'm Fred Barnes.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: I'm Mort Kondracke. We're "The Beltway Boys."

BARNES: And the Hot Story is, Bush is back after that first disastrous debate. You know, I, when I watched the second debate Friday night, sitting right next to you, my snap judgment was that Bush had done a lot better than the first debate, and that was about it.

Then overnight, I read the transcript again a couple times. I read some analyses that were very good of, of the debate. And I have come to the conclusion, one that was inescapable, that Bush won that debate.

Now, it wasn't because he was so eloquent. He certainly and so quick on the uptake, as, as you and I know. He missed a lot of opportunities to zing Kerry.

KONDRACKE: I'll say.

BARNES: We have, OK, and I'm sure you will say, but Kerry crumbled in the second half. He was on defense, Bush was on offense. And this was domestic issues, which are supposed to be the long suit of John Kerry.

I'll run down the list for you. He zinged Bush for enacting a tax cut during wartime, and then he proposed his own tax cut while we're, while we're still in war.

Tort reform, I think he got rattled on tort reform and said he's for a cap on damages. He's not for a cap on damages. His plan doesn't include one at all.

Then I thought when the, there were two women who asked questions on moral issues, stem cells and abortion, he was very patronizing toward them.

And the most telling single thing was, after he'd been labeled repeatedly a liberal by Bush, what did Kerry say? Did, and, and I think this showed he'd been stung, he said, Labels, what do labels mean? They don't mean anything.

Well, conservatives don't mind their label. Moderates don't mind their label. It's only liberals that care about their labels, showing that they are liberals.

Now, at the very least, I think Bush slowed Kerry's momentum. He may have stopped it. And there's a chance he could even have reversed it.

KONDRACKE: Well, I, I can't argue with you at all on the tort reform point and on taxes during wartime, there's no question about that. And it's true that Bush did better in this debate than he did in the last one, but he could hardly help it, could he?

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: Overall, I still think that Kerry marginally was better than Bush. I thought he was cooler, more aggressive, more in command of his material. And I thought that Bush was actually defend, on, on the defense, defensive both most of the time.

And, and, and Bush was just wrong when he said that Kerry wants to have government-dominated health care. I mean, what, it's true that Kerry wants to expand Medicaid but his fundamental position is to give people tax credits so they can go into the private market and buy the, buy their own insurance. This, this plan of Kerry's is not Canadian health care, it's not even Hillary health care.

But the bottom line, I think, is that the, that the, that the, a tight race is going to get tighter, and, you know, the, the polls are going to be very tight, and this is going to be a squeaker of an election unless something changes in the third debate.

Anyway, it's now time to go to the videotape.

BARNES: Mort, you're wrong about that health care point. But bite number one is Bush defending decisions he's made that are unpopular around the world, and, and especially in Europe, but which he says are right for America. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes in this world you make unpopular decisions because you think they're right. We'll continue to reach out. Listen, there's 30 nations involved in Iraq, some 40 nations involved in Afghanistan. People love America. Sometimes they don't like the decisions made by America. But I don't think you want a president who tries to become popular and does the wrong thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNES: Well, that was one of Bush's strongest moments in the debate, and I, I loved that people love America thing. I'm sure liberals sneered.  But the truth is, people all over the world want to be immigrants and come to America. I mean, they, that's all the traffic one way, that's for sure.

Bush was trying to show he's steadfast and Kerry, if elected, will pander to Europeans and others and not sufficiently stand up for the American interest.

KONDRACKE: Well, I think Kerry would pander to, to the French and the Germans. That's the whole basis of his, of his foreign policy.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: I do wish, however, that there was a middle ground, that you could, if you could have somebody who wouldn't pander, and on the other hand, would, would have an administration that would not go out of its way to offend other countries.

I mean, it is simply unnecessary to have, to, for the United States to be detested around the world, I mean, I, it's not the country, but it's Bush, to be detested around the world. And Kerry is absolutely right that it, it makes it more difficult for a foreign leader to support the United States when his population is against it.

Now, here, here is a, a second bite is Kerry defending himself against the charge of being wishy-washy. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The world is more dangerous today. The world is more dangerous today because the president didn't make the right judgments.

Now, the president wishes that I had changed my mind. He wants you to believe that, because he can't some here and tell you that he's created new jobs for America. He's lost jobs.

He can't come here and tell you that he's created health care for Americans, because 1-point — what, we got 5 million Americans have lost their health care, 96,000 of them right here in Missouri. He can't come here and tell you that he's left no child behind, because he didn't fund No Child Left Behind.

So what does he do? He's trying to attack me. He wants you to believe that I can't be president. And he's trying to make you believe it because he wants you to think I change my mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNES: You know, I tell you, this is a hard, a hard sell for Kerry, trying to convince people that, to believe what he's saying now or believe the evidence of his entire political record right up to the debate Friday night. It's a, it's a record of a flip-flopper.

Now, Mort, does Kerry not know the difference between health care and health insurance? Look, 5 million people haven't lost their health care.  It's guaranteed in this country. This is not a small, a small thing when he says they've lost their health care. And the truth is...

KONDRACKE: He's using a shorthand.

BARNES: No, that's not shorthand, that's erroneous, that's a mistruth, an untruth. And the truth is, many of those who've lost their health insurance, if not most, have, have just lost it temporarily and mainly because we've had a recession.

KONDRACKE: Yes, but just a second, Kerry had another good, a very good line along the same, on Iraq, and that was to say that American soldiers are dying because of the failure of the Bush administration to, to guard the ammunition dumps right after the war was over. Even Paul Bremer, your hero, is, is out making speeches saying that we did not have enough troops on the ground at, at the time.

BARNES: All right, bite number three is when the candidates were asked about partial birth abortion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

KERRY: The president just said categorically, My opponent's against this, my opponent's against that. You know, it's just not that simple.  No, I'm not. I'm against the partial birth abortion, but you've got to have an exception for the life of the mother and the health of the mother, under the strictest test of bodily injury to the mother.

BUSH: Well, it's pretty simple, when they say, are you for a ban on partial birth abortion, yes or no? And he was given a chance to vote. And he voted no. And that's just the way it is. That's a vote. It came right up, it's clear for everybody to see, and as I said, you can run but you can't hide.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BARNES: I thought that was a pretty good Bush moment too. It, I mean, this issue is simple, I mean, and I thought he, I thought he nailed Kerry on it. I wish Bush had described for a moment a partial birth abortion and how gruesome it is.

And this notion of an exception for the health of the mother, of the mother, the American Medical Association has said there's never a health reason for having a partial birth abortion. In fact, a partial birth abortion is more dangerous than bringing the child to life.

KONDRACKE: I think Bush did nail him on partial birth abortion. But on the, on the other question about abortion, on the parental notification, I, I thought Kerry was ahead of, had a very good position.

What are you going to do in the case of incest, where a girl is pregnant by her father, and you're going to, and you're going to require her to go to her father to get permission to have the, to have the abortion? I don't think so.

BARNES: Go to her mother.

KONDRACKE: Well, her mother may be scared to death of the father.

BARNES: All right, go to her doctor. Lots of places she can go...

KONDRACKE: All right, all right. Final bite: the Kerry tax pledge, probably the moment of biggest news in the whole debate. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

KERRY: Right into the camera, yes. I am not going to raise taxes. I have a tax cut, and here's my tax cut. I raise the child care credit by $1,000 for families to help them be able to take care of their kids. I have a $4,000 tuition tax credit that goes to parents and kids if they're earning for themselves to be able to pay for college. And I lower the cost of health care in the way that I described to you.

Every part of my program, I've shown how I'm going to pay for it.

BUSH: If you look at his record in the Senate, he voted to break the spending caps, over 200 times.  And here he says he's going to be a fiscal conservative all of a sudden?  It's just not credible. You cannot believe it.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KONDRACKE: Well, I mean, Kerry was a Democrat who favored a balanced budget back in, back in the days when Clinton was trying to do it. But, you know, and I think that Kerry would genuinely try to balance the budget over a five-year period.

The problem is that he gets something like $600 billion over 10 years out of raising taxes on rich people, but his, his health care system costs more than that. He's in favor of a Medicare prescription drug bill that's even bigger than Bush's. Kerry wants to spend lots more money on homeland security, which I think is a good idea. And he, and he also wants to spend more money on education.

So, I, you know, I don't see how this add, adds up. But that's a point that Bush should have made, but he didn't.

BARNES: Mort, I was thrilled by that pledge and that Kerry's not, not going to raise taxes. Let's get Grover Norquist to come in, and maybe he, Kerry will sign his no-tax pledge. That, that would be great.

But the, but the truth is, Kerry has, he would pay, he says he'd pay for this, and I think you were getting to the point, but you didn't quite get there, Kerry will pay for all these programs with his tax increase on...

KONDRACKE: On the rich people, on you.

BARNES: ... yes, on you. And, and it won't be just rich people, I mean, just two-earner families can easily get in that bracket. But, but the point is, it won't pay for all those things he would have it pay for.

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