This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Oct. 20, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BUSH: It's great to be in Mason City, Iowa.

(CHEERING)

BUSH: Appreciate the warm welcome. It's the home of fine corn, fine people, and fine music.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Apart from the food, the fine people and the corn, what was President Bush doing in Mason City, Iowa today? And what about the time he's been spending in neighboring Minnesota and next door in Wisconsin? Those are all traditionally Democratic states won byAl Gore (search) four years ago.

Well, who better to ask than our old friend, David Yepsen (search), the veteran political columnist of the Des Moines Register.

David, let's take a look at a few polling averages, a few recent polls. Iowa polling, recent polling average shows President Bush down, oh, less than a point. Same thing Wisconsin, the president down, what? About a point and a half, Kerry up one point. For Minnesota, Kerry with a little bit more of a lead there, 2.4.

I don't know that either of us looking at this from a couple of years ago would have thought it would be this close in those states. What's going on?

DAVID YEPSEN, "DES MOINES REGISTER": Well, president — I think the war in Iraq, the 9/11 attacks changed a lot of things around the country and certainly here. There's a real debate in all of these states in the Upper Middle West over the role that this country plays in the world, and whether or not this is the right thing to be doing.

Brit, you've got some real isolationist tendencies in this part of the country. You've got some real pacifist tendencies here. Some deeply religious — people with deep religious convictions who object to this war, and at the same time you've got fierce patriotic senses among people. Iowa has some of the highest levels of participation of Guard and Reserve units of any state in the country. And these things kind of butt up against each other and so there are vigorous arguments going on in this state about the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq.

HUME: Is it — this is something that the president never quite talks about, and Senator Kerry, for obvious reasons, doesn't either. But it has now been what? Three years and a month or so since 9/11, and there have been no further attacks on the U.S. mainland. And really no major attacks — terrorist attacks, apart from those that have gone on in Iraq, on the U.S. anywhere.

Is it your sense that people are kind of giving Bush credit for that, even though he doesn't talk about it? Or is that really not the way they look at it?

YEPSEN: No, I think they do give Bush credit for that. And clearly polls show that he has given — people think he's more competent to deal with those issues than Senator Kerry. I think that's one reason why Senator Kerry was out here talking about those subjects today.

Brit, you know, when school started this fall, at the very same time Americans and people here were sending their kids back to school, you had those attacks in Russia. And I think that really brought home to a lot of people the real danger that terrorism still holds. And I think it had an effect on a lot of voters. At the time, President Bush bumped up a little bit. Now he's bumped down a little bit.

In all of these states the polls you're looking at here, you're looking at a margin of error situation. And it's a dead even proposition. In Iowa in 2000, Brit, Al Gore carried the state by two votes. One reason President Bush didn't carry this state was because of a little area around Mason City, Iowa. There were about four counties. They took their advertising off. And lo and behold, the day after the elections, Republicans said we should have been there. Well, they're here now. It's not state-by-state anymore; it's county by county.

HUME: I want to ask you about a poll that I know you were interested in from an outfit from the Center for Rural Strategies. This was taken back in September. And it showed the president leading by 55 to 42 percent. And I guess that's a national poll, right — David?

YEPSEN: That's right.

HUME: How does that feed into this?

YEPSEN: Well, I think this serves to explain a lot of what's going on in many of these battleground states, a lot of which have real — a lot of rural populations. President Bush is running about 13 points ahead of John Kerry among rural voters. Four years ago, he ran about 22 points ahead of Al Gore, and won narrowly in some of these states. So one reason that many of these states are close is that rural voters are not as warm to President Bush today as they were four years ago.

Having said that, the trend line has been in President Bush's favor. Now, the center is coming out with some additional research on this. So we'll have to see. But the economy, the economic issues of rural America have been a problem. If Senator Kerry can do a better job of connecting personally with people in rural America, I think he'll win some of these states.

HUME: And yet, we see him returning again and again to make his arguments about the war on terror. We saw that again today with Senator Kerry arguing that issue. It is as if it's the issue that he feels he must somehow qualify on. And even at this late stage of the game, he must feel, I guess, that he hasn't. Is that how you read it?

YEPSEN: I agree, Brit. I mean I think that's why he talks about it. Clearly voters want to make sure — they're ready to make a change, and all these polls indicate that. But he's got to make — they want to— he wants to make sure that he proves up on this subject in order for people to be willing to vote for him in a time of some national concern and peril. And if he can do that, if he can prove up on that with this, I think he tips a lot of these votes in his favor.

HUME: Well, of course, that would return him to basically the same situation that Al Gore had four years ago, winning all three states. Is it your sense that these three states are likely to go as a group in the same direction, or do you see serious differences among them?

YEPSEN: I think there's a lot of similarities in demographics and economic issues in these states. I mean there are some nuances here and there. But I give a little bit of an edge to Senator Kerry in all of them on the strength of the Democrats superior get out to vote operation. I know you've talked about this on the show before. But you know, the whole voter identification, registration, absentee vote, get out the vote effort that the Democrats and the Democratic 527s are doing is just unprecedented.

One example, Brit. We've added 36,000 new absentee voters just so far to the electorate in Iowa.

HUME: Right.

YEPSEN: About 80 percent of those are Democratic ones. Now, if Gore only carried the state by 4,000 votes last time, Democrats have already got 40,000 votes in the bank now.

HUME: David Yepsen, always a pleasure to have you. Thanks very much.

YEPSEN: Thank you, Brit.

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