With Three Weeks to Go, Who's Winning?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Oct. 11, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: With two debates down and one to go, who is coming out on top so far?

Joining me to preview the final three weeks of the campaign: Democratic National Committee Senior Adviser, Ann Lewis and Republican National Committee Senior Adviser, Terry Holt, two high-powered figures in both campaigns.

Ann, if I go to you first. I see the polls are all over the place, and you believe what you want to believe, but I guess a clear observation is they're very, very close right now?

ANN LEWIS, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE SENIOR ADVISER: Right. This is going to be a very close election. Every vote is going to count.

But I'll tell you, John, as the American people get a good look at John Kerry and a good look again at George Bush and they consider the choices between them, whether they're going to go forward with John Kerry or whether we're going to go with George Bush who offers us more of the same, I feel very good about the direction we're going.

GIBSON: Terry Holt, there were elections today in Afghanistan. I imagine you'd be playing that up.

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: A central accomplishment of the basic vision the President brings to our national security situation — that democracy can flourish in difficult parts of the world.

But I think what's happening with these debates — there's a broader debate that's happening. And these are just chapters in it — really, in fact, as John Kerry's record and his flip-flops during the campaign are exposed to scrutiny by the American people, I think that exposes a real credibility problem for him.

And as we move to the last one, I think that that's going to become even more evident on basic issues. Where the President has core domestic accomplishments to talk about, reforming education, improving and strengthening Medicare, getting an economy back on its feet after some crushing blows, John Kerry has opposite or inconsistent positions on all of these things.

In fact, his economic plan may threaten to really wreck this economy. So, I think we're get stronger as we see more of John Kerry out there, in fact.

LEWIS: We may agree at least that we're both looking forward to the next debate and we do want it to be about George Bush's record. I'm just going to put the word "accomplishment" in quotes for a moment. We're going to talk about job loss, about a president who thinks it's okay to go on giving tax breaks to outsourcing, about middle-class families who are squeezed because health care costs keep going up, gas prices are going up.

And again, George Bush says more of the same.

HOLT: More gloom and doom for man under Democrats.

LEWIS: This is reality. And people who are sitting home with their household budgets know that.

GIBSON: Ann, let me direct a question at you. What am I supposed to think? Let's say that I'm Mr. Undecided Voter, and I actually like the idea of striking back if we're hit. And I hear John Kerry say, "I'm for preemptive war. I'm going to hunt them and kill them.

And then I hear him say, "Well, I want terrorism to get down to being a nuisance. I want to pass a world test. What am I supposed to think when he says things that appear to be contradictory.

LEWIS: Here's what you should think, and I hope people who read that article will see John Kerry said very clearly in that "New York Times" interview you were citing, "This is war. When people attack us as they did, when they murder Americans as they did this, this is war. We have got defeat terrorists. "

As he has said before, "We have got to hunt them down and kill them." What he also said — and I think this was very appropriate — "Ultimately, here's our goal. Ultimately our goal is that people will not feel endangered in their daily lives. We've got to reduce the threat of terrorism." That's exactly what he said.

GIBSON: Terry?

HOLT: John, I just wanted to point out.

LEWIS: I think it's a very realistic way to say use every tool that's available.

HOLT: Excuse me Ann.

LEWIS: No, you had quite a lot of time.

HOLT: Well, I just want to just point out that during this.

LEWIS: Use every tool that's available, military, intelligence, foreign policy.

HOLT: Well, I'll let you go, John.

GIBSON: Ann, let me let Terry answer. Terry — take a shot.

HOLT: Well, I just think this long answer that she's giving is proof positive that nobody really can coherently understand John Kerry's approach on some of these issues. There are basic contradictions. The global test issue, and now the nuisance thing, they're being covered as political gaffes.

But there are core problems with John Kerry's thinking on the big issues that face this country.

GIBSON: Let me focus it for Ann, because I know she wants to respond to these. Ann, in the same article, Richard Holbrooke is talking. We all know Richard Holbrooke; a very smart guy. And I think a lot of people think this is where you get into this nuance deal.

He said there is no such thing as a war on terror, it's just a metaphor. What we're really talking about is winning the ideological struggle so that people stop turning themselves into suicide bombers.

Would you advise that the campaign talk in more direct terms, that that seems to be a little bit too complicated or nuanced?

LEWIS: Yes, I talk very simply, as you may have noticed, John. So, let me make it so clear and so simple that everybody listening can understand. Here's what John Kerry said. One: this was war, we were attacked. We went back, we fought back hard.

Again, every one of us cheered when we went into Afghanistan because that's where Al-Qaeda was, that's where Usama Bin Laden was. And you know what? They're the people who attacked us.

Two: it was a mistake to divert troops and resources from Afghanistan from the terrorists who attacked us as George Bush did. We should have finished the job. We should have hunted down Usama Bin Laden. America would be safer.

Three: looking forward, we need to use all the tools available to us. That includes military that includes intelligence that includes, eventually, diplomacy so that we have fewer terrorists. That's the way to keep our children safe in the future.

GIBSON: OK. Terry, this is a central question.

HOLT: Yes.

GIBSON: War on terror different from Saddam Hussein and the war in Iraq?

HOLT: Well, these are all battlefields in the broader global war on terror. That's why it takes a president with resolve and determination and consistency to lead the world in this global war, and to not fundamentally understand what we face is the big problem with the Kerry campaign

To be for 20, 25 years hostile to the defense of the country, hostile to some of the basic strengths that we've shown, winning the Cold War, going on offense in the global war on terror, he's out of touch with what we face and doesn't have a plan going forward except these pronouncements, that some are so obvious, and others contradict his 20, 25 year record.

GIBSON: I've got to thank Terry Holt and Ann Lewis, two who won't quite agree but they may come back to disagree one day. Thanks to both of you.

LEWIS: Thank you.

HOLT: Thank you.

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