Debate Between the Presidential Candidates:
Al Gore and George W. Bush
St. Louis, Missouri, October 17, 2000
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Part Three | Analysis
Read the transcript:
Recap of presidential candidates third
NEAL CONAN, host: That exchange of `good luck,' `good luck to you' as the two candidates moved
from their high chairs and grasped each other's hands. Now they're embracing
their family members, who've come out onto the round stage at the Athletic
Complex at Washington University at the close of this third presidential
debate, the last before the election.
The questions tonight were provided by uncommitted voters who sat around the
stage. Moderator Jim Lehrer started with the subject that attracted the most
questions. That was health care. There were exchanges about the Patients
Bill of Rights and the price of prescription drugs and national health care.
Education was the next big subject and the questions were on accountability
for parents and then for teachers, a discussion that ended up ranging into an
exchange on the relative fairness of both candidates' tax cut proposals.
Foreign and military affairs was next. The crisis in the Middle East came up
and which candidate was better suited by his experience to handle such affairs
and whether the US military is overextended. There were questions on gun
control and the NRA, on foreign policy--the first time that's come up in the
debates; on cultural morality and on the apathy of young voters. There were
questions about diversity and affirmative action, tax relief for the middle
class, the death penalty and a sixth-grade teacher brought a question from his
classroom, `Will you keep the promises you've made during the campaign?'
You're listening to coverage of the third and final presidential debate from
Undecided voters able to ask questions
in third presidential debate
NEAL CONAN, host:
NPR's Steve Inskeep joins us now from the debate hall in St. Louis. Steve,
STEVE INSKEEP reporting:
CONAN: First of all, those people who got to ask the questions, who were
INSKEEP: Well, they were undecided voters, we were told, or uncommitted
voters was the phrase that the debate commission used, chosen by the Gallup
polling organization and it's particularly interesting that they were from
this particular area, St. Louis. This is a swing state, the state of
Missouri. This is a state that has been bombarded by ads, not just in the
presidential campaign but also a Senate race that has been very active here,
and a governors race as well and a number of congressional races. You cannot
turn on the television in St. Louis for very long without seeing political
commercials and it really seemed to affect some of the questions that they
decided to ask folks tonight. There was a question in particular about a
television ad involving gun control, an ad that had a clip from the president
of the NRA. And this was a question that the candidates had to ask because a
group called Handgun Control put out this ad. It's been airing again and
again and again in swing states. If you don't live in a swing state, you've
probably never seen this ad. But if you are living in one of the 12 to 15 to
perhaps 18 or 19 states that are closely contested in this election, it is
affecting people and it seemed to affect the questions here, not just about
gun control but also the largest number of questions, according to the
moderator, Jim Lehrer, had to do with health care. And there are constant
commercials on the air about health care here in St. Louis as well.
CONAN: How did the candidates work the crowd? They tried to engage the
questioners but their own rules set up prohibited that.
INSKEEP: Well, to some extent, although each man managed to show a
dramatically different style--they were walking across this red carpet,
surrounded on three and a half sides, if that makes any sense, by the more
than 100 uncommitted voters and each showed a very dramatically different
style, which almost reflected their basic philosophy in a way. George W. Bush
was somewhat reserved. He spoke quietly. He did move toward his questioners
as the question was asked, but he was not feeling their pain, in a sense--in a
kind of Bill Clinton sort of sense. He was not really emoting. He was
keeping a polite distance, I think maybe is a good way to phrase it. He was
talking to people, dealing with people, but he was also carefully making sure
to get his points out and he was stressing broad themes.
I thought one of the most amazing moments that showed the contrasts, both in
style and substance, between these two gentlemen was when Bush said, in
effect, and I don't have an exact transcription here, but basically it's not
the difference in philosophy or the difference in issues that's important in
this election, it's can you get something done, which is George W. Bush's
basic philosophy, that he can be less partisan and that he can be less
combative and get something done. At that moment, Al Gore stood up, in what
appeared to be amazement, and wanted to break in; one of the many times that
Al Gore was extremely combative out there today. It's interesting, given the
commentary from the last two debates about Al Gore's behavior, that he chose
to be aggressive, he chose to say again and again, `I want to fight for you,'
and he did that.
There was one instance in which Al Gore actually turned to the moderator, Jim
Lehrer, and made as if he was licking a finger, as if to say, `I burned you.
I got an answer out of this guy.' So people have suggested that Al Gore was
an aggressive schoolboy and he's basically saying, `That's who I am and I'm
CONAN: Thanks very much, Steve.
INSKEEP: Thank you.
CONAN: NPR's Steve Inskeep in the debate hall at Washington University in St.
How Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan's
death may affect the Missouri campaigns and the presidential
NEAL CONAN, host:
Before we turn to our analysts for their reactions to tonight's debate, we
want to spend a moment talking about the Senate race in Missouri. Last night
Governor Mel Carnahan was killed in the crash of a private plane along with
his son, who was flying the plane, and a campaign adviser. Early this morning
there was some talk of canceling or postponing tonight's debate. The decision
was made to proceed. Jean Carnahan, the governor's widow, said her husband
would have wanted it that way. After all, this provided an opportunity for
the two major presidential candidates to be questioned by the citizens of the
state of Missouri and for their concerns to be heard.
Mel Carnahan, a Democrat, was term limited as governor and he was in a very
close race with Republican Senator John Ashcroft. NPR's David Welna is in St.
Louis. He joins us now from the media center at Washington University.
David, thank you for joining us.
DAVID WELNA reporting: Hi, Neal.
CONAN: How does this change the Senate race? Obviously, it appears they have
to leave, as I understand it by law, Mr. Carnahan's name on the ballot.
WELNA: Yes, that is going to happen. We still have a Senate race but I don't
know if we have a Senate campaign anymore. Senator John Ashcroft announced
that he is suspending his campaign indefinitely in the wake of the death of
his rival. But because Carnahan's name is going to be on the ballot, the big
question is: How many of his supporters are going to go to the polls and cast
a vote for a dead man? Now there would be a consequence if Carnahan were to
get more votes than Ashcroft in this and that would be that the man who
replaced him, Roger Wilson, as governor would have the choice of a stand-in
that he could name in the place of Carnahan should that come about. Names
have been bandied about, such as Carnahan's widow Jean, perhaps one of his
children who are politically involved, but the big question is whether people
would actually do that. I talked to people today and many people said, you
know, they just couldn't imagine voting for him, but others say that they
would. They feel that the governor has a huge reputation in this state that
they want to honor with their vote. There's also a lot of resentment towards
John Ashcroft on the part of many Democrats in Missouri. He was seen as a
very divisive senator, after his governorship here, and many people feel that
this would send a message that people in this state want him to leave.
CONAN: How might the governor's death affect the very tight presidential race
here in Missouri?
WELNA: Well, I guess it would all ride on whether the people who would have
voted for Carnahan would stay away from the polls because of his death. Those
are people who would most likely vote for Gore because people in Missouri do
not have a tradition of splitting their ballots. But that remains to be seen.
I think right now there's a lot of gloom in this state over the death of the
governor. A lot of people are in shock even. And it's very hard to gauge
right now whether they would really stay away from the polls. Some people
said that they were so discouraged, they couldn't think about voting today.
But I think Al Gore would definitely be the person who would be hurt by the
death of the governor, if there were a consequence at the polls.
CONAN: David, thank you very much.
WELNA: And thank you, Neal.
CONAN: NPR's David Welna, who joined us from the campus of Washington
University in St. Louis. The funeral for Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan is
scheduled on Friday. The governor was 66 years old.
Tonight's broadcast of the final presidential debate is available to you
online. If there are parts of the debate you'd like to hear again, visit our
Web site at npr.org.
Third and final presidential debate
NEAL CONAN, host: And now we turn to our analysts. Joining me here in Studio 3A is NPR's senior
news analyst Daniel Schorr, Andy Kohut of the Pew Research Center for the
People and the Press, and joining us from member station KPLU in Tacoma,
Washington, is NPR's Elizabeth Arnold. Welcome to you all.
DANIEL SCHORR reporting: Hello. Yes.
CONAN: Dan, want to start us off?
SCHORR: Why not. Neal, at about this moment last Wednesday night I said that
I thought that Governor Bush had won the debate. I thought that he scored
points and that, for some reason, Vice President Bush--perhaps because he'd
been criticized for his actions in the first debate--hung back. Tonight he
really came back. I thought what he did was to, first of all, carry the
battle to the enemy, if I can put it that way. And almost every answer he
inserted not only what he thought about it, but he tried to define Governor
Bush and what he thought Governor Bush meant. The governor apparently was not
really prepared for this. At times he seemed to be sort of almost staggered
by the violence of the attack on him. Secondly, he managed to be very
personal. When he wanted to talk about Hollywood, what was wrong there, he
talked about his daughter, he talked about how his wife had fought against
lyrics in music and all the rest of that. And in the end it seemed to me that
Governor Bush was really not quite prepared for this onslaught and that he
ended up looking a little beaten.
CONAN: All right. Elizabeth Arnold, a lot of people were saying that Vice
President Gore needed to do something.
ELIZABETH ARNOLD reporting:
You know, I'm going to stay away from the handicapping and the winners and
losers, Neal. I think what we really--you know, one thing that needs to be
pointed out is what these guys were really trying to do. Three weeks out both
candidates were appealing to those who haven't made up their minds. With the
exception of family farms and affirmative action, I don't think much new
ground was covered tonight. In fact, I heard a lot of the same statements in
response to the same questions, but from the very outset, it was clear what
each candidate was trying to do. The very first question, the Patients Bill
of Rights, Gore tried to make a stark contrast between himself and Bush. Bush
used the question to say he united Democrats and Republicans in Texas on the
issue. Clearly, Bush wanted to look tonight like the great uniter who will
put politics aside, an outsider opposed to big government. It was clearly an
appeal to Independents and undecideds sick of partisan bickering. Gore, on
the other hand, wanted to make it clear there's a difference between the two
of them. He said that over and over again, that he's the candidate who will
fight for working families, take on special interests, also an appeal to those
still trying to make up their minds. It really sort of depends on how many
undecideds were tuning in and how best the two reached them.
CONAN: Andy Kohut, did you see certain issues and demographic groups popping
up in their references? Any attempt to skew towards the demographics
identified in opinion polls?
Mr. ANDY KOHUT (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press): I don't
think so much the demographics but certainly the themes. I think Governor
Bush was trying to make meaningful people's reservations about Gore's
character, about his being too partisan, being less politically honest and
moving it away from `it annoys you and there's something you don't like about
it' to `it's going to get in the way of progress.' And this sort of builds on
what Elizabeth was saying about seeing--defining himself as more conciliatory,
more able to get things done because of Vice President Gore's problems with
being partisan, being divisive. And on the other hand, I thought that Gore
brought back populism. You know, the populism theme that worked so well for
him in August and early September re-emerged and he kept restating--trying to
restate the differences. I think they both sort of fell apart when they get
into that, `Yes, he will,' `No, I won't,' dialogue because undecided voters,
no matter what their demographics, sort of are confused by it.
SCHORR: I think that's right. I thought a representative moment of this
evening was reached on a question of affirmative action when the vice
president did something the rules forbid, which is directly to address
Governor Bush. And in the course of doing that, he showed some of his old
debating skills and forcing him into a corner and forcing him to say that
affirmative action the way you define it, maybe I'm not for it, but he was
clearly very uncomfortable.
The other thing I'd like to say...
ARNOLD: Dan, I...
SCHORR: Yes, go ahead.
ARNOLD: Sorry. I was just going to totally agree with you on that one. On
the one hand, it made it look like Bush was evasive. But, on the other hand,
Gore had to look really pushy to make that point.
SCHORR: Yeah, but I think he was willing to be pushy. I think he tried once
being pushy and they didn't like it. They he tried once being not pushy.
That didn't work well at all, so I think he's gone back to being his real
Mr. KOHUT: But he was better mannered in his aggressiveness and he wasn't so
disparaging of Bush. At least that's the way it seemed to me and I think
maybe that's the way it may seem to voters. I mean, he went on the attack
without perhaps risking the backlash that he felt in the first debate.
CONAN: In these three debates, what have we learned about these two men in
terms of how they would act as president of the United States? We've heard a
lot, particularly in the second debate, about foreign and military policy,
some of that again tonight, but most of tonight obviously focused on domestic
Elizabeth Arnold, what kind of presidents would these guys be?
ARNOLD: You know, Neal, I actually think, although people thought it was the
more boring of the three, I thought we learned the most about what kind of
presidents these two would make in the second debate, when half of the debate
was physically taken up with questions about foreign policy, how the US should
be perceived. But you really had to sit there and listen to follow-up after
follow-up and not change channels and watch the baseball game to get any of
that. Tonight we really didn't have that sense. A lot of the same questions
were asked and both candidates launched back into the same phrases--in fact,
sometimes unconnected phrases--from their stump speeches that, you know, maybe
people wouldn't realize they're from the stump speeches and it was kind of
hard to follow some of them. I don't think you have that sense in tonight's
debate at all and it was much more sort of a point, counterpoint, and charges
and countercharges and stump speeches.
SCHORR: I think that's right, Elizabeth. You know, there were 15 questions,
if I counted them, asked in all and practically all of the questions were--the
first three are on health, the next two are on education. There was very,
very little about international problems and you would expect at a time where
we had this great explosion in Aden against an American ship, when the
president is just back from trying to restore something like a peace process
and stop all the fighting, that there might be something more. There was one
about how you would deal with the Middle East crisis if you were president.
If these people who were chosen by Gallup are a representative group,
Americans are still very much interested in what's happening in America.
Mr. KOHUT: Neal, I think Gore's message was, this is going to be a replay of
the Clinton years without President Clinton. President Clinton's name never
came up once in this debate.
CONAN: But one suggestion was there when he spoke, `I will restore honor and
dignity to the White House.'
Mr. KOHUT: That was Governor Bush.
SCHORR: By Governor Bush, yes. And that was kind of the only thing that went
into the troubles of the past year was that one line from Governor Bush.
CONAN: But in general, would you regard both of these as status quo
candidates? That there are differences in policy and perhaps one is more
aggressive internationally than the other but pretty much status quo?
SCHORR: Well, I was left confused when the vice president announced that he
was going to spend more money for the military than Governor Bush was. I
thought they were adopting each other's lines at one point. But I thought it
was very, very interesting that the governor decided that that was a good time
to talk about not spending too much money. I did not expect ever to hear that
from any Republican candidate.
ARNOLD: Well, again, similarly, if you look at their ads right now, we're
three weeks out. They're looking for undecided votes, Independent swing
voters, people who don't like party IDs, party labels. And so, you know, you
saw a lot of that. You couldn't tell which was the Republican and which was
the Democrat and that was intentional.
CONAN: And the Independents tend to not like bickering, which is why they're
Independents in the first place.
CONAN: Andy Kohut, as you've gone through the analysis of the numbers, again,
it's almost the same question I put to Steve Inskeep, who are these people who
are uncommitted at this point?
Mr. KOHUT: Well, they're mostly middle-income voters. They're mostly
suburbanites. They're mostly mothers. There are many mothers who are
undecided. There are many older men who are undecided. They are people who
are pushed and pulled by the pros and the cons of each of these candidates and
they cannot make up their mind as to which way--how to evaluate the very mixed
product that they're being offered by both candidates.
CONAN: And they...
CONAN: Go ahead, Dan. I'm sorry.
SCHORR: I just wanted to ask you, what is the latest you have on the
percentage of undecided or uncommitted voters, plus those voters who may have
decided but may change their mind?
Mr. KOHUT: I think it's still about a fourth of the electorate as we sit here
three weeks before the election. At least one in four voters are either
SCHORR: And so if you're told that one is 2 percent ahead of the other, or 3
percent ahead of the other, that is practically meaningless, isn't it?
Mr. KOHUT: Particularly given the fact that the lead has gone back and forth.
You have to say that, unless there's some decisive trend that comes out of
this debate, which I suspect not, we're going to see this indecision and this
softness in people's attitudes go right through Election Day. And they're
going to be compelled to choose because November 7th is the last day they can
make a choice.
SCHORR: You mentioned it, but to what extent do you think that people decide
on the basis of these three debates, or four debates with the vice president?
Mr. KOHUT: Well, you know, I don't think these debates have materially
changed things. They've probably reinforced a lot of attitudes rather than
created some new ideas and they may have stiffened the indecision.
ARNOLD: Sure. I don't know if Andy would agree with me on this or not, but,
you know, sometimes debates have--they do sort of freeze a moment in time and
people's opinions of candidates. I don't think any of the debates have done
that. I think declaring a winner or loser and sort of the inputs of analysis
can be sort of underestimated, although most people think that Gore was far
more informed and better on his feet than Bush in the first two debates and we
in the media talked so much about Gore's shifting styles and how Bush did
better than expected. The general impression of those who didn't watch the
debates but heard about them is that Bush won them both hands-down, so I think
that there's really a lot of sort of misinformation or misanalysis or just
people out there--I heard two guys on the plane talking today. Neither of
them had seen any of the debates, but they thought that it was, you know,
hands-down Bush and I just don't think the debates have done what they have
done in the past, which is sort of freeze impressions of both candidates. I
don't think we're at that point yet and I think three weeks is going to be a
CONAN: Well, with that I will conclude this part of the conversation with the
most important observation and that is the darks suits. This time, however,
Mr. Bush wore a blue shirt and a red tie. It was Gore with the white shirt
and the red tie. And with that, I will thank all three of you, NPR's Daniel
Schorr and Elizabeth Arnold and Andy Kohut, who directs the Pew Research
Center for the People and the Press.
SCHORR: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: You're listening to coverage of the final presidential debate from NPR
Recap of presidential candidates' third
NEAL CONAN, host:To recap the debate, PBS broadcaster Jim Lehrer chose questions from 130
submitted by audience members who then read their own questions themselves.
The first question went to Gore and asked how he felt about HMOs overriding
medical care decisions. Mr. Gore said it was wrong and that he supported a
Patients Bill of Rights, specifically the Dingell-Norwood bill, in the
Congress. Mr. Bush said he had passed a good bipartisan bill protecting
patients in Texas and did not want such laws overridden by national
legislation. Mr. Gore then strode closer to the Texas governor and asked
about the Dingell-Norwood bill. Mr. Bush dismissed that as a Washington
style question, overly concerned about process and who gets his name on which
bill. He said he opposed a national health-care plan. `I trust people,' he
said, `I don't trust the federal government.' The vice president said he was
willing to move toward a national plan for universal coverage but did not
think the federal government ought to do all of it.
One woman asked how to make parents more responsible for their children's
education. George Bush said testing and wider choice in schools could lead to
greater accountability and parental involvement. He said the federal
government should spend more on schools but that that control should remain at
the local level. Mr. Gore said he wanted all American schools to be world
class and not just a few. He said there should be 100,000 new teachers
recruited in public schools and help for communities where bond issues may
fail because parents are no longer in the majority.
The two clashed sharply on taxes and spending. Gore said Bush would devote
more money to the tax cut for the top 1 percent than he would devote to
spending on health, education and the military combined. The governor said
everyone who paid taxes ought to get a cut and that Al Gore's tax cut plan
would only help those the government favored.
When asked what they would bring to managing the crisis in the Middle East,
Bush said he had been a leader. He said he would have the vision, the
willingness to stand by friends and the credibility to be effective. Gore
stressed his experience in the Army, in the Congress and in the White House.
Al Gore said he had supported higher military pay and investments in military
technology. Bush said if it were all a spending contest, he would come in
second. But he said readiness had suffered in recent years, in part because
the US had deployed forces too widely and in situations where the mission was
not clear or compelling.
One questioner asked the governor about the Brady handgun bill which requires
background checks at sale. Bush said he supported trigger locks but mostly
wanted people who use guns illegally to be held accountable for their acts.
The vice president said he favored the Brady Bill and other limits on handguns
but he said his proposals would not affect hunters or sportsmen or rifle
Gore denied Bush's charge that he wanted a bigger federal government. He said
the federal government was now the smallest since the Kennedy administration
and that it was the Texas state government that had been growing. Both men
said they wanted American farmers to get a better price for their crops. Gore
suggested changes in federal farm policy. Bush focused on foreign markets.
George Bush also said he would eliminate the estate tax, which he said forced
families to sell their farms for taxes. Al Gore said he favored eliminating
the tax for 80 percent of farms but not for the wealthiest.
Both men said they favored filters and other measures to enable parents to
monitor what their children are watching or hearing in the media. Both men
said they supported greater diversity but Bush said that if affirmative action
meant quotas, he was against it. Gore said he, too, opposed quotas, but that
affirmative action was meaningful without them.
And a man asked if the two would keep their campaign promises if elected.
Each vowed that he would.
CONAN: Join us for continued coverage of this evening's debate tomorrow on
"Morning Edition" and right now online. Our Web address is npr.org. Good
evening from Washington. I'm Neal Conan, NPR News.
Part One | Part Two |
Part Three | Analysis