OTR Interviews

Who Won the Debate?

This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," Oct. 1, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, ANCHOR, ON THE RECORD: It is crunch time for both campaigns tonight with just 32 days to go before voters head to the polls to cast their ballots. Let's bring in the party chairs for reactions to tonight's debate. Joining us are Ed Gillespie of the RNC and Terry McAuliffe of the DNC.

All right, Ed, Carl just reported that apparently the DNC — or the Kerry campaign, rather — intends to send out tomorrow these cutaways of the president’s reaction. What is your thought about that?

ED GILLESPIE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I think that is fine. I hope they send it far and wide. The fact is the president was listening to Senator Kerry and taking notes and obviously responding to many of the erroneous statements he made and setting the record straight.

And look, they would rather have, you know, that kind of distraction than talk about the fact that Senator Kerry, after saying the president misled us acknowledged that he had the same intelligence himself and he accepted it. That Senator Kerry makes it the centerpiece of his campaign that he is going to bring other countries into the effort in Iraq and bring more troops to fight shoulder by shoulder, at the same time he says it is the wrong place, the wrong war, at the wrong time.

How do you get other countries to come in to fight the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time?

VAN SUSTEREN: Terry, these cutaways? I'm a little bit — I mean, I'm sort of consumed with this. Sort of an interesting idea for a campaign to do that. Is that dirty or is this fair game and is it instructive?

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, first of all the cutaways are of George Bush's behavior tonight during the debate. You saw the president of the United States tonight that looked annoyed the entire time during the debate. He looked angry.

He couldn't answer the questions as to what was happening on the ground in Iraq. And I think the president became very annoyed by that. And you know it was unfortunate for Americans because they wanted a real debate tonight on the issues and George Bush did not want to answer any of the questions.

So, the cutaways merely are George Bush. You know, I think he even sighed a few times. But this was George Bush, out there looking very annoyed. He did not look presidential tonight.

You saw a president tonight and that was John Kerry. John Kerry looks steady, a commander of the issue. It was a very good night. All networks, as you know, have already called it, said it was a big win for John Kerry tonight. Every instant poll out now, has John Kerry leading. So it was a very good night for John Kerry.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ed, I don't know what to make of these polls. I mean, when the president's up the Democrats say they’re stupid, when the Democrats are up the Republicans say they’re stupid. The flash polls, now, at least for the evening says that Senator Kerry beat President Bush. What does this mean to you? What does it mean to your campaign?

GILLESPIE: Actually, what is said was that — if you look at all of the questions are asked, people said that they felt Kerry won the debate, but that a majority agreed with the president on the issues and on the policies.

VAN SUSTEREN: What matters? I mean, what does it mean?

GILLESPIE: I think it matters that the American people are going to base their decision on where these candidates are on the issues and on the policies. And the fact is President Bush demonstrated again today, resolve in winning the war on terror and making sure that we are victorious in Iraq.

And we saw again, Senator Kerry, in the 90 minutes here tonight what we've seen over the past nine months, which is a constantly changing policy position on Iraq.


MCAULLIFFE: Bad night for George Bush, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. At one point he said Saddam Hussein has attacked the United States of America. I mean it was unfortunate, George Bush looked clueless up there tonight on that podium. John Kerry had a command of the issues, was very clear, was very concise; said here is my plan for America.

George Bush, sighing, as I say, he looked angry. He slouched over his podium the entire night. He just wasn't in the game tonight. It is unfortunate, because Americans want these debates to be about questions and answers about serious issues that are facing Americans.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it is sort of interesting, when you look at the debate tonight. It was fascinating. I was inside the hall. I enjoyed it immensely. But what really matters are these sort of undecideds. Most people who came into that hall, I mean, there was no one in that hall, who I met, who was an undecided. People were either shirts or skins. You had already picked your team by that point.

McAULIFFE: Well, he gets half the tickets and I get half so this crowd was pretty discriminating.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, all right. But what about, I mean, do you have any information how the undecideds reacted to this yet?

GILLESPIE: Not yet. It will take a little time for voters. Look, the voters are going to make the determination. I think it is interesting that all Terry wants to talk is the president, whether he slouched or not, which he didn't, he was taking notes and everything. But he doesn't want to talk about the issues.

VAN SUSTEREN: But wasn't he at one point, it did seem like Senator Kerry got under his skin. At one point he said, that's absurd. That was the president's response. Now, the president, maybe it was absurd, I know, but the president clearly reacted.

GILLESPIE: Well, to the absurd statement that Senator Kerry made. Sometimes you just have to note when something that is being said is absurd. And you have to point it out. And the fact is, Senator Kerry, like I say, says that he's going to help us with our allies and at the same time attacks Prime Minister Allawi, one of our most critical allies in the war on terror, at the joint sessions speech.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me give Terry that last quick word on this.


VAN SUSTEREN: Terry, don't voters want passion in a president. So, if he says that's absurd, that shows a guy at least who has some passion.

McAULLIFFE: All you saw tonight from George Bush was a man who looked annoyed and angry. Looked like he didn't want to be there. That Jim Lehrer shouldn't even be asking these questions and how could John Kerry dare attack his policies.

His policies are wrong for America and that was clear. And if you look at the polls tonight, swing voters by a margin of 3 to 1 supported John Kerry tonight.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you both, gentlemen. Nice to see both of you.

GILLESPIE: All right.

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