This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", Oct. 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: I'm Mort Kondracke.

FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: And I'm Fred Barnes, and we're THE BELTWAY BOYS.

KONDRACKE: The Hot Story is jump ball. That is the state of the race right now after, after the debates are finally over. I think that that represents progress for John Kerry (search), who was in very bad shape before all the four debates began.

The Washington Post poll on Friday showed the race all tied up at 48 percent and on our favorite Web site — RealClearPolitics.com — the net of all the average polls shows that Bush is ahead by 3 points.

Now, I think that the Washington Post's front-page columnist, you might call him, Dana Milbank, who rarely has a good thing to say about, about President Bush...

BARNES: Never, never.

KONDRACKE: Well, he had it right on Friday when he said that the Bush campaign had created this cartoon character of John Kerry as a kind of a spineless, vacillating opportunist, or as a leftist wearing beads, and that's not the Kerry who showed up at the debates.


KONDRACKE: The Kerry who showed up at the debates looked like somebody that you could imagine being president of the United States. And, so therefore, you know, Kerry gained, and Bush's approval rating actually fell during the debate period — it's down below 50 percent — which is a crucial number.

Now that we're into the home stretch, what both campaigns are trying to do is to scare the electorate into thinking that disaster will befall the country if the other guy gets elected president. Here's a little montage of the two campaigns:


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On issue after issue, from Medicare without choices, to schools with less accountability, to higher taxes, he takes the side of more centralized control and more bureaucracy. There's a word for that attitude. It's called liberalism.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: With the minimum wage the lowest it's been in 50 years, denying 9.2 million women $3,800, is that all you got? Mr. President, with health care costs skyrocketing, premiums up $3,500 per family, 5 million more Americans without health care, 82,000 of them right here in Wisconsin, is that all you got, Mr. President?


KONDRACKE: And on Friday also, Kerry tried to scare young people into thinking — I mean, more strongly than ever — that there's going to be a draft if Bush gets reelected.

BARNES: You know, Mort, I like what you said about those sound bites, calling them a montage. That's really, really dressing them up...


KONDRACKE: I'm showing my artistic side here.

BARNES: Yes, yes, keep it up, you know, look, I'll have to say, I am mystified by some of these polls. I mean, I'm not disputing it. The, the race seems to me to be pretty close to being tied.

But John Zogby, who usually, in his polls, Bush does poorly, he's ahead, Bush is now ahead by 4 points in John Zogby's poll. And I agree with him, whenever Bush is below 50 percent in his job approval rating, that should be very worrisome to the Bush people, because that's the thing that correlates with the vote that a president running for reelection might get.

Now, in a close race like this, even a small mistake can have a large impact. And I think John Kerry made a mistake in that last debate when he singled out Mary Cheney for mention as a lesbian. And, of course, the Cheney family, the vice president, Lynne Cheney, his wife, were furious about it. Watch.


KERRY: We're all God's children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You saw a man who will say and do anything in order to get elected. And I am not speaking just as a father here, though I am a pretty angry father, but as a citizen.


BARNES: Now, look, Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney was obviously calculated. John Edwards had done the same thing in his debate with the vice president, whenever it was, a week or so ago. And, and now Edwards says, Well, Cheney first brought this up in Iowa. Cheney didn't bring it up in Iowa. He responded to a question that he got at a town hall meeting in Iowa.

They are, Cheney, rather, Kerry and Edwards, exploiting the vice president's daughter for political gain. It's as simple as that.

And I think they're trying, I think they're trying to, they're trying to intimidate the president by, so he'll not really use the gay marriage issue and the constitutional amendment he favors by saying, Look, here's what's going to happen, we're going to mention this Mary Cheney thing over and over again, and that'll hurt you with some voters, because they worry that the gay marriage is one that where Bush could peel off some Democratic voters.

I mean, you've seen the numbers in Ohio in the polls there.

Kerry has not apologized for this, but he did say something to the Des Moines Register on this subject. He said, "I was being respectful, surely respectful. I was trying to raise the point that they've embraced their daughter and that they don't raise questions, and that Dick Cheney himself is against the constitutional amendment," the one banning gay marriage, "a reflection of love, and, I think, recognition of who their daughter is."

Do you believe a word of that?

KONDRACKE: No, that, that was a loaded comment itself.

BARNES: Yes, of course.

KONDRACKE: I mean, that, that, how can Dick Cheney respect his daughter if he's, if the administration is for a constitutional amendment?  He's got a split with the administration, in effect.

BARNES: No, yes, John Kerry did take exception to what Mary Beth Cahill, his campaign manager, had said. You'll remember this, Mort, watch.


MARY BETH CAHILL, KERRY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: There are a lot of questions here about gay marriage, and she is someone who's a major figure in the campaign. I think that it's fair game, and I think she's been treated very respectfully.


BARNES: Do you notice that? It's fair game. John Edwards said the same thing, "It's fair game." The "it" refers to Mary Cheney. Look, now, I don't know whether this issue is going to hurt Kerry.  It is the sound bite that we are going to be seeing for days. But it might. And in a close race, it can have some impact.

KONDRACKE: Yes, well, focus groups suggest that there were people turned off by, by what, what Kerry said. And I certainly was exercised by it.

BARNES: Oh, I know you were.

KONDRACKE: The problem is that the press has not been viewing it the way it would if a Republican had raised the gay issue in that way. That'd be all over page one. Now, it's in back pages.

I do think that, however, that when you balance the homophobia of, that the Kerry campaign might have been playing into with the homophobia that the, that the Republicans are indulging by favoring this constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage and also is ambiguous, at best, about spousal benefits for domestic partners and so on, that, that, that the Bush people are acting in a much worse way than the Kerry people are.

BARNES: Mort, it's not it, it's not homophobia when you are defending traditional marriage, which every society has had for thousands and thousands of years, which two-thirds or more of the American people favor, and you're saying that's homophobia that's worse than the abuse, the purposeful abuse of a young woman for political gain because she is a lesbian? Mort, there's no comparison.

KONDRACKE: Well, look, homophobia is fear of gays. I mean, what amendment was all about is fear of 5 percent of the country.

BARNES: Well, that's not 5 percent.


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