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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

PANEL:
PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC;
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK;
TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES;
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC

DATE: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2004

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Down to the Wire.

(Videotaped excerpts of third presidential debate.)

PRES. BUSH: There's a mainstream in American politics. You sit right on the far-left bank. As a matter of fact, your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts.

SEN. KERRY: Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country. This president has taken a $5.6 trillion surplus and turned it into deficits as far as the eye can see.

PRES. BUSH: He talks about pay-go. I'll tell you what pay-go means when you're a senator from Massachusetts, when you're a colleague of Ted Kennedy. Pay-go means you pay and he goes ahead and spends.

SEN. KERRY: This president has never once vetoed one bill -- the first president in 100 years not to do that.

PRES. BUSH: People need to remember, six months prior to my arrival, the stock market started to go down, and it was one of the largest declines in our history. And then we had a recession and we got attacked, which cost us 1 million jobs.

SEN. KERRY: Eleven other presidents, six Democrats and five Republicans, had wars, had recessions, had great difficulties. None of them lost jobs the way this president has.

(End of excerpts.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Did the three presidential debates change the dynamic of the race? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, in August the Swift Boaters, with their attacks on Kerry, followed by the Republican Convention, reduced Kerry to 36 percent approval. He is now back up around 48. So what happened was Kerry, in the first debate especially, redeemed himself and regenerated himself. And if he wins this election, the first debate is responsible and the debates are responsible. But if he loses, it will be because of the job done on him in August and at the Republican Convention.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or if he stumbles.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, exactly, if he makes a big stumble now. But as of right now, I think those will be the causes of victory or defeat.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mmm-hmm. (Acknowledging.) Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, the debates got Kerry back in the game. And he turned in a consistently strong performance over the three of them, and he belied the caricatures that the Bush campaign had drawn of him. And now Bush is out there, flailing around with this liberal name- calling, trying to replay his father's campaign in 1988. After trying to do everything opposite from his father, he's now fallen into the trap. John Kerry is not Michael Dukakis, and I think it's a very weak argument here in the closing weeks of the campaign.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to move this forward, Tony. By the way, congratulations on the bling-bling there. (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Thank you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Bush-Cheney Swiftboat team, Tony, created four caricatures of John Kerry: One, a spineless commander-in-chief; two, a phony war hero; three, a chronic flip-flopper; and four, a compulsive liberal.

Question to you: Now that the debates are over, what is the status of these caricatures? Are they intact, are they inert, or are they dead?

MR. BLANKLEY: First of all, I agree with Pat's general analysis of the dynamics --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, are you going to go to my question?

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm going to go exactly to your question. Having said that, where the first debate clearly changed the dynamics of the election, I think that those charges still --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are inert?

MR. BLANKLEY: They still explain why Kerry is not ahead. Kerry -- with the God-awful news that this country has had over the last year, Kerry ought to be ahead by 10 or 12 points, not behind by three or four. So it's certainly true that he slipped the hook of sure defeat after the first debate.

But I think those charges struck deep, and that's why, after the first debate, as powerfully as he was seen to have won it by the American public, that he still couldn't get ahead. It tells you how deeply the allegations, the valid ones, were made against him earlier.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence, are those four caricatures now shattered?

MR. O'DONNELL: They are not shattered for the 45 percent of the vote that's absolutely locked into President Bush. They believe all of that stuff. No one else does, especially the swing voters, the undecideds, who, no one should be surprised, are only now making up their minds.

The debates matter because this is the time when the undecideds finally are forced, because of all the preemptions on television, to be exposed to these candidates as they have been. And Kerry, as I said at the outset, was going to win all three of the debates. He did, by huge margins. And he is taking those undecided voters now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you identified, as I have, through mistake, serious mistake, error of judgment, of the Karl Rove Swift Boater team, namely the timing? They waited too long between the convention, when they lambasted him and tore him to pieces, until the debates. He had enough recovery time so that when he came through with the transformation at the debates, with his piercing language and intellect, and with his very presence, many believe, that he was able to give the coup de grace --

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, the problem for the Bush campaign is that in the debates, when you try the ridiculous, empty smears that are just --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But they timed the whole attacks too early. Timing is everything in politics.

MS. CLIFT: They changed --

MR. O'DONNELL: The trouble is, the candidate is standing right beside Bush when he says these things, and then you cut to Kerry and he doesn't fill the bill when they cut to Kerry.

MS. CLIFT: The Swifties were --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, if the --

MS. CLIFT: The Swifties presented a pile of lies, and they couldn't --

MR. BLANKLEY: No, they weren't.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me.

MR. BLANKLEY: They weren't lies. Well, they weren't lies.

MS. CLIFT: They were a pile of lies --

MR. BLANKLEY: No, they weren't. You can say that, but they weren't.

MS. CLIFT: -- in discrediting --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: -- in discrediting of his service. And that was really dishonorable. They were lies. And they would not have been taken seriously after --

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, we're going to --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me -- after the campaign began. They worked in August because people were on vacation. The cables wanted some relief from the Laci Peterson/Scott Peterson trial, and they filled the void. That was a low point in their --

MR. BLANKLEY: No --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was dumb thinking. It was dumb strategizing as far as the timing was concerned. I'm telling you that.

Okay, another debate fire storm.

(Excerpt of third presidential debate.)

MR. BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?

SEN. 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.

(End of excerpt.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Senator Kerry's reference to Mary Cheney, the vice president's openly gay daughter, angered both of her parents.

MRS. LYNNE CHENEY: (From videotape.) This is not a good man. And, of course, I am speaking as a mom, and a pretty indignant mom. This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: (From videotape.) 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.

(End of excerpts.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Less than two weeks ago, at the vice presidential debate, when Mr. Cheney sat face to face with John Edwards, Edwards also mentioned Mary Cheney, which drew this reaction.

(Videotaped excerpt of the vice presidential debate.)

SEN. EDWARDS: I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter. The fact that they embrace her is a wonderful thing.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much.

SEN. EDWARDS: You're welcome. You're welcome.

MS. GWEN IFILL: That's it?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: That's it.

(End of excerpt.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, responded to Lynne Cheney's comments, uttered on the same day, during an interview with ABC Radio.

MRS. ELIZABETH EDWARDS: (From audio tape.) Lynne Cheney, who has been, I think, a wonderful advocate for her daughter, she's overreacted to this and treated it as if it's shameful to have this discussion. I think that's a very sad state of affairs.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thursday afternoon, Senator Kerry released a statement. "I love my daughters. They love their daughter. I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue."

Question: As some have asked, is the Cheneys' indignation genuine, or is it feigned? Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: I can't look into the soul of other people. What I do know from politics is that this is the topic that is being discussed coming out of the debate. It's bad for Kerry. And the double problem is that his own campaign chair, Mary Beth Cahill, said that Cheney's daughter was, quote, "fair game."

Now, you take that "fair game" and you take Kerry's self-serving statement that "I was trying to talk about their dignity," obviously this was a calculated hit. It was gay-baiting to try to suppress the evangelical vote for Bush.

MR. O'DONNELL: Oh --

MR. BLANKLEY: And it is playing badly for him. And we're now several days --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let him finish. Quickly.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- several days after the debate. Kerry knows he's blundered.

MR. O'DONNELL: Calling someone lesbian is an insult?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay --

MR. BLANKLEY: It was targeted for those people --

MR. O'DONNELL: Is it an insult? Is it an evil thing?

MR. BLANKLEY: It was targeted on those people who think that way. And they knew it. And Cheney --

MR. O'DONNELL: Those who think George Bush should be president, they think lesbians are evil and George Bush should be president.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him in and make a point.

MR. O'DONNELL: And there's something wrong --

MR. BLANKLEY: You know this is a political blunder --

MR. O'DONNELL: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, I have to admonish you. Let him in now.

MR. O'DONNELL: You are making it clear that it wasn't a political blunder. You're saying that Kerry said something that is harmful to the Bush campaign. It has everyone who thinks lesbians are bad saying that this was a cruel thing to say. Mary Cheney's a lesbian. Did I just say a bad thing?

MR. BUCHANAN: You're not --

MR. O'DONNELL: She's a lesbian. Did I say a bad thing?

MR. BUCHANAN: It was cold, calculated, cruel and deliberate --

MR. O'DONNELL: The word isn't bad to me.

MR. BUCHANAN: Stupid -- cold, calculated, stupid, for this reason. What they're doing is -- what Kerry is doing is this. He knows they're being hurt on the gay marriage issue, so let's get the fact out there in conservative and evangelical and Christian --

MR. O'DONNELL: To people who hate lesbians.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- that the guy has a daughter who is a lesbian. So to throw -- to say the Republicans are hypocrites, throw them under the fence. It has backfired right in their face. John, when both of them do it, it is calculated.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay --

MS. CLIFT: You said John Kerry outed her. She's public.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, when you talk to 60 million people, you out somebody.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. She's public. She's a high official in the campaign. She was the gay and lesbian outreach person for the Coors corporation. And John Kerry and John Edwards said nothing negative about her. It's only negative if you think gay and lesbian behavior is shameful.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let me in here, please. Excuse me.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me.

MR. BLANKLEY: Then why did they call it fair game?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will you please excuse me?

MS. CLIFT: This isn't about Mary Beth Cahill.

MR. BLANKLEY: It is.

MS. CLIFT: That was John Kerry --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You go to the back of the class. Okay, here's a sound bite from the vice president, delivered at a town-hall meeting in Davenport, Iowa on August 24.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: (From videotape.) Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with. We have two daughters and we have enormous pride in both of them. They're both fine young women. They do a superb job, frankly, of supporting us.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Does Vice President Cheney's unsolicited public mention of his daughter's sexual orientation affect the credibility of his and his wife's show of indignation over Kerry's remarks? Lawrence O'Donnell.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, it does. Lynne Cheney is a politician. Let's remember that. She's not someone who's just suddenly found herself in a political environment. It was a very, very deliberate act. I believe, tactically, that it is a huge mistake for them, and they are going to now try to make this go away.

What it has allowed them to do is say the words they've been dying to say, which is "John Kerry's a bad man." That is the entire basis of the Bush campaign.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, because it attacks integrity, integrity, integrity.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But let me just ask Lawrence another question, and then I'll go to you. Who do you think is the more persuasive, Lynne or Elizabeth?

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Elizabeth said --

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't think what either one of them is saying is going to be persuasive. I think 60 million people heard what John Kerry said. The people who hate lesbians will have a problem with what he said, and everyone else already knew it and finds --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me try that question -- the same question out on Eleanor. Who is the more persuasive, Lynne or Elizabeth?

MS. CLIFT: I find Elizabeth more persuasive. But, frankly, this is not a good issue for the Kerry campaign, because as long as we're talking about this, we're not talking about the fact that the challenger just defeated the sitting president in three consecutive debates.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about the subject of sexual- orientation choice?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that a matter of choice?

MR. BUCHANAN: Look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can I get to the bottom of this?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, you can. First --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is sexual orientation a matter of choice?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, it's a matter of nature or nurture; we're not sure which.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Therefore --

MR. BUCHANAN: But behavior is a matter of choice. But let's go to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Therefore it's a naturally occurring phenomenon.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes.

MR. BUCHANAN: It is a naturally occurring phenomenon. But let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just as much as racial or ethnic --

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's on a par with racial or ethnic differences. Is that correct?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, it's not, because -- no, it's not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then it is a matter of choice?

MR. BUCHANAN: Behavior is a matter of choice. Orientation is not. But for the vice president to talk about his daughter's situation in an environment like that is entirely different, and it may be appropriate, than having the candidate of the Democratic Party get up there and make a --

MS. CLIFT: He didn't say anything critical.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you making the assertion that while it's an orientation, it must never be practiced?

MR. BUCHANAN: When it's practiced, it's wrong.

MR. O'DONNELL: Or mentioned. Don't ever mention it. It's a bad word.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that religion now or is that --

MR. BUCHANAN: That's what you were taught for 13 years in the Jesuits. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is that, an attack or a congratulations? (Laughter.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, that's a statement of fact.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: My position is if it's natural, it's natural. If it's natural to them, then it's natural.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, listen, you know, sex is natural, but sex outside of marriage is wrong. Didn't you write a book about that?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who said that it's sex outside of marriage?

MR. O'DONNELL: So all gay sex is wrong.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, you said if it's practiced. And if it's practiced, it's wrong.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I didn't say that.

MR. BUCHANAN: The orientation --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I asked you, and you said yes, it's wrong.

MR. BUCHANAN: The practice is wrong.

MR. O'DONNELL: Mary Cheney is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think what we have here --

MR. O'DONNELL: According to this --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do we have here the audience for Lynne and Dick, as opposed to Elizabeth and John?

MR. O'DONNELL: I recognize that --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but I don't think he was wavering. (Laughs.)

MR. O'DONNELL: I recognize that formulation from my Catholic religion classes, too. And it is one that condemns every waking moment of Mary Cheney's life.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, it does not.

MR. O'DONNELL: That's what it does. And that's why you're all excited about someone using the word lesbian, because it's evil --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you saying that the candidate for president, John Kerry, accepts the reality, the existence, the commonality of this phenomenon --

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and he treats it as a naturally occurring phenomenon?

MR. O'DONNELL: And the president, in the crucial moment of the question, says, "I don't know if it's a choice." And the reason that it makes sense for Kerry to have mentioned someone who's very close to him, Mary Cheney -- just ask her. Just ask her. It's very clear this president has never asked a gay person in his life anything about the way they live.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you distinguish between DNA and choice? Can you distinguish between the two?

MR. BLANKLEY: There's a wonderful book by a British science writer that discusses the interplay between nature and nurture and how genes continue to be affected by the environment all through our lives. It's a very complex issue. But this is a political debate, and when the campaign manager said she's fair game, then we're not having a quorum on --

MR. O'DONNELL: Is lesbian --

MS. CLIFT: What that means --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to get out.

MR. BLANKLEY: It was obviously targeted to have a political effect.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have got to get out of this ethics-morality class.

MS. CLIFT: What that means is that she is not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question.

MR. BLANKLEY: They weren't having a science debate. They were having a political debate.

MS. CLIFT: What that means is that she is not an under-age child who is kept out of the campaign, that she is actively working in the campaign. And therefore, a mention of her is totally --

MR. BLANKLEY: It was a political blunder. It was a political blunder.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Did Kerry win the whole string of three debates -- get out your crying towel, Buchanan -- as is commonly stated in the press, both ink and electronic? Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Kerry won the first going away. The second, the president gained on him. I think he won narrowly. The third --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who? Who? Who? The president?

MR. BUCHANAN: The president.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Last week you said he won in a blowout.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, he won the third. The third was the president's best debate he's had in his life, and I think he's firmed up his support and he's gone back uphill. And the reaction on your face, John, tells me that that is true.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, I will say this. I will say the president's best appearance was in the third debate.

MR. BUCHANAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But I also believe that Kerry won the third debate.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. And as I said last week, if his best appearance was in the third debate, it's only because he's graded on a curve. If you watch the three debates together as a package, John Kerry delivered the consistent, strong performance.

MR. BUCHANAN: Boring.

MS. CLIFT: And it was -- I don't think it was boring. It was reassuring.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, great work. Great work. Don't give Bush any quarter.

MS. CLIFT: No. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I think that the lesbian comment could be the equivalent of Ford's Poland comment in the '76 debate.

MR. O'DONNELL: Because it's such a bad word.

MR. BLANKLEY: Poland is --

MR. O'DONNELL: You should never use it in polite society.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I know you're going to be sarcastic. You're playing to your Hollywood crowd.

MR. O'DONNELL: I mean it. I love lesbians. I love lesbians. I love homosexuals.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me finish.

MR. O'DONNELL: I love heterosexuals. I love all of God's children.

MR. BLANKLEY: And the fact that here you are, a Kerry supporter, talking about this days after the debate, just like Ford's supporters had to do about Poland after the '76 debate, it was a blunder of the first order and it may have cost him the election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Nuclear theft.

Get this: Equipment and machinery that could be used to make atomic weapons has vanished from Iraq in the months since the U.S. invasion. Former chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said that, once again, the Bush administration had made the Iraq situation worse.

MR. HANS BLIX: (From videotape.) Things were under control in Iraq when the inspectors were there. All these things were tagged and they were visited by the inspectors. And in comes the United States and occupies the country in order, ostensibly, to take care of weapons of mass destruction, and they lose control and the instruments and equipment that could be used to be helpful in nuclear production disappears.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: If the nuclear materials were stolen and it wasn't done by the CIA, is this more egg on Rumsfeld's face? Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I mean, they went in there and they didn't guard anything but the oil ministry. And so that was a mistake of the first order. But in fairness, this nuclear material is readily available in lots of other places. So it's not like this is the only --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, this is a lot of machinery, too, key machinery. You're aware of that, are you not?

MR. O'DONNELL: This is really --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you have a scientific bent?

MR. O'DONNELL: This the last straw in any analysis of how badly mismanaged the occupation has been. I mean, there were thousands of ammunition dumps that weren't being guarded at all in the first few months after the occupation. But to allow this, any hint of any leakage of a nuclear capability -- nuclear being the central and largest reason for the invasion -- to make sure that they didn't have that or stopped them from having that, this is the ultimate failure of the entire campaign in Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, do you want to add to this, quickly?

MS. CLIFT: I think Eleanor is basically right. It's certainly unfortunate, but it's not strategic, because these things are available in a lot of other places, including --

MS. CLIFT: It was not a real stockpile.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Buchanan has lapsed into silence. He's been appropriately rendered taciturn. Okay, the human toll: U.S. military dead in Iraq, including suicides, 1,086; U.S. military amputee, wounded, injured, mentally ill, all now out of Iraq, 28,850; Iraqi civilians dead, 21,800.

Exit question: Political ramifications. If the rising instability in Iraq fosters a sense of insecurity, it helps the incumbent, Mr. Bush. If it fosters a sense of misdirection, mismanagement, waste and futility, it helps the challenger, Mr. Kerry. So is the rising turmoil in Iraq helping or hurting Bush politically? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think clearly, if it weren't for Iraq, the president of the United States would be winning this election by 10 points. But I believe this. It has been discounted fully unless there is some major, dramatic event in Iraq of a terribly negative --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will you answer my question? Is the turmoil, the ongoing -- the loss of offensive -- we're on the defensive now, which some say we've lost control -- if you listen to the press, they cannot move out of the green zone.

MR. BUCHANAN: I disagree with you. We were on the offensive in Najaf. We're on the offensive in Samadi (ph). We're on the offensive in Fallujah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's call it turmoil. Is the ongoing troublesome turmoil, is it helping Bush or is it hurting Bush?

MS. CLIFT: There's still a sense that things are spinning out of control, and that hurts Bush.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think Pat's right. The impact has been internalized. And without dramatic change, at this point it won't have an effect up or down.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. O'DONNELL: I agree with what I think Pat said, and I definitely agree with what Tony just said clearly said. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It doesn't have any difference. No? Oh, I think now it's --

MR. BUCHANAN: Bush is rising.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's more negative than it is positive on the feeling of insecurity, and therefore turning to the incumbent.

MR. BUCHANAN: Zogby poll, John, Bush is rising.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Poll Check.

Washington Post ongoing three-day tracking poll, 1,202 likely voters, ending Wednesday: Bush 48, Kerry 48. Zogby, three-day ongoing tracking poll, 1,220 likely voters, ending Thursday: Bush 48, Kerry 44.

Question: What do these numbers tell you? Patrick.

MR. BUCHANAN: I'll tell you what they tell you, that Zogby's got a rolling tracking poll that says that John Kerry did not win that third debate, at least in the eyes of the public, because he's four points ahead, Bush is, where before he was four points behind.

MR. O'DONNELL: The Gallup poll showed that Kerry won the third debate by a margin almost as big as the first debate, by 14 points. He ran away with all these debates. Kerry has all the momentum. That's why he's passing Bush in most polls.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've gone silent, Tony. Why is that?

MR. BLANKLEY: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'd be (disappointed?) if you waited for that civility.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I think the polls are ambiguous.

MR. O'DONNELL: Try confusing. You can't figure them out.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, they are, at this point, ambiguous. I think there's a slight trend to Bush, but it may be a blip; it may not be a trend.

MS. CLIFT: I think Bush revved up his base, and that's what we're seeing. I think he may have a ceiling.

MR. BLANKLEY: What this campaign is coming to is which base is going to turn out more intensely. And it's not knowable yet, but I think Bush did himself --

MS. CLIFT: Swing --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can I go on, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Swing is king. The swing voters will decide.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's right. And the undecideds now are going to break obviously for Kerry because they always go with the lesser- defined candidate. You know that.

MR. BUCHANAN: Kerry has been defined.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not the way Bush has been defined. Bush has been on the public stage four years.

MR. BUCHANAN: They both, John, are right about the same level in terms of approval of the individuals now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is so obvious, I don't even feel it's worth repeating. Kerry is the lesser-defined candidate. Now, you go home and figure it out and report to me tomorrow. (Laughter.)

Okay, job -- this will sober you up -- job approval rating, Zogby, ending Thursday: Bush disapprove, 53 percent; approve, 47 percent.

MR. O'DONNELL: That's why the president cannot be re-elected. It's his own numbers that prevent him from being re-elected.

MR. BLANKLEY: That's simply not true.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear that? Did you hear that?

MR. BLANKLEY: That's simply not historically true. Forty-six, 47, 48 percent is on the cusp of being a winning or a losing incumbent. You don't have to be at 50.

MR. O'DONNELL: Not for president.

MS. CLIFT: Bush won in 2000 with 47.9 percent of the vote, and that's about what he has now. And I think, no matter what he does, you guys will stick with him. You're the 47 percent.

MR. BUCHANAN: You have a false sense of confidence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will the popular vote remain close?

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. BLANKLEY: It could still break either way.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, I think it could break either way, John.

MR. O'DONNELL: There's no way it can break for the president. If it was going to, it would have done it already. Kerry could win this by five. He'll probably win it by one.

MR. BUCHANAN: I disagree. I think this lesbian thing could finish Kerry.

MR. O'DONNELL: (Laughs.) Could do it, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the --

MR. BLANKLEY: Keep in mind --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you conclude, Tony, from the tied favorability rating? What's the overarching -- the significance of the tied favorability rating? We didn't show those, but they're about the same.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Between Bush and Kerry. In other words, it's one to one on a favorability scale.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's one to one. But keep in mind, the military vote is going to break 70-30 for Bush, and none of them are being polled in any of these polls.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If the United States Supreme Court takes up this question of homosexuality, will it support the Supreme Court of Massachusetts in its determination that marriage is okay and required?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, I think they'll support the Defense of Marriage Act.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do?

MS. CLIFT: I think the courts eventually will support gay marriage.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: U.S. Supreme Court.

MR. BLANKLEY: The Supreme Court will say no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will say no to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

MR. O'DONNELL: The Massachusetts court was a flawlessly-written opinion. The Supreme Court will not be able to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I agree with you, because it was based on the creation of a class, and constitutionally we cannot do that.

Bye-bye. #### END_