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updated 10/25/2004 8:59:52 AM ET 2004-10-25T12:59:52

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NBC News

MEET THE PRESS  Sunday, October 24, 2004

This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with:

                    MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS

                          (202) 885-4598

                    Sundays: (202) 885-4200)

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  the race for the White House.  Just nine days to go.  Heated rhetoric on both sides:

(Videotape):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  My opponent has earned, and I mean earned, his rank as the most liberal member of the United States Senate.

(End videotape)

(Videotape):

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA):  George Bush likes to talk about how being president is hard work.  Well, Mr. President, I'm very happy to relieve you of the hard work.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  With us:  the chairman of the Democratic Party, Terry McAuliffe; the chairman of the Republican Party, Ed Gillespie.  McAuliffe and Gillespie square off.  Then, insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, Gwen Ifill of PBS' "Washington Week," and Byron York of the National Review.

But first, the final stretch of the campaign.  We're joined by the chairman of the Republican Party, Ed Gillespie, and the chairman of the Democratic Party, Terry McAuliffe.

Chairmen, welcome both.

MR. ED GILLESPIE:  Good to be here, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you the latest polls.  Here is Newsweek.  It has Bush up, 48-46.  Time, Bush up, 51-46.  Zogby, Bush up, 47-45.  And ABC-Washington Post, just out this morning, Bush up, 49-48.  Four polls, all close but all advantage Bush, Terry McAuliffe.

MR. TERRY McAULIFFE:  What I'm most concerned about are battleground states. Every one of those polls that you see there have John Kerry leading in the battleground states.  I mean, you look at George Bush; he's having to do eight stops in Florida.  You look at Pennsylvania, you look at Ohio, you look at New Hampshire, look at Colorado--we have very competitive races all over the country, but we are up in the battleground states.  This is about 270 electoral votes.  John Kerry's message is working.  I mean, George Bush is having to defend states that he won last time, so we're very comfortable where we are.

We are putting together the largest grassroots mobilization in the history of our party:  25,000 precinct captains, 250,000 volunteers.  We've already knocked on 10 million doors; 20 million phone calls.  The party's in the best financial shape ever.  We've raised $200 million more federal money than we had four years ago.  Everything's going.  We're ready for nine days from today.

MR. RUSSERT:  You say that George Bush is defending states he won in 2000. But what about Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, states that Al Gore won in 2000 that John Kerry is now behind?

MR. McAULIFFE:  Yeah.  Iowa's very close today, dead even.  Wisconsin's the same.  But if you look at huge states, you look at Florida, 27 electoral votes--I mean, today, the Orlando Sentinel came out and endorsed John Kerry. The Orlando Sentinel has not endorsed a Democrat in 40 years.  I was just in Florida.  I was there all day Friday with the Black Eyed Peas, getting young people to go out and vote.  They have three-hour waits right now in lines for people to go in with early voting.  It is exciting.  Ohio:  The polls have us up in Ohio; 20 electoral votes.  We win Florida and Ohio, this election's over.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ed Gillespie, the polls I mentioned, three of the four I showed you, even though George Bush is ahead by a point or two, he's below 50 percent.  And with nine days to go, if an incumbent has not yet reached 50 percent, what does that say about his fortunes?

MR. GILLESPIE:  Well, Tim, that historic standard went out the window in '02. In fact, if you look, every incumbent senator in 2002 who was at 45 percent or above a week out from the election was re- elected.  People are holding back their vote.  They know they can get information at the last minute on the Internet and through other means today.  The fact is the president has--we've got a breeze at our back, not quite a wind yet.  We do have momentum going our way in the homestretch.  And actually if you look at the battleground states, as Terry was talking about--Mason-Dixon did a survey of all of the battleground states, and in nine of the 15, the president is overperforming where he was in 2000.  In all eight of the states he carried in 2000, he is leading right now.  And in three of the seven states that Al Gore won, President Bush is leading right now.

The fact is we are campaigning in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Mexico. Those states are all in play, they're all states that Al Gore carried in 2000; Pennsylvania as well.  A couple of polls recently had the president up in Pennsylvania.  So, you know, the battleground is out there for both sides, but I feel good.  I feel like momentum is on our side.  We're going to carry Florida and Ohio again.  The president was endorsed this morning by the Columbus paper.  People are looking for that.  That comes on top of the Cincinnati paper.  So we're very optimistic.

MR. RUSSERT:  A Republican has never been elected president without carrying Ohio.  Can George Bush be elected without carrying Ohio?

MR. GILLESPIE:  We're going to--he's going to be re-elected carrying Ohio. It's a lot easier to get there with Ohio and we're going to do it with Ohio.

MR. RUSSERT:  But he could win even without Ohio?

MR. GILLESPIE:  Well, you can do the math any number of ways, but the fact is our focus is on carrying Ohio.  We feel good about carrying Ohio and we're going to win Ohio again.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me talk to you about some of the things that have been in the paper about both political parties.  This is The New York Times from yesterday.  "Big GOP bid to challenge voters at polls in key states. Thousands recruited as monitors in Ohio," some 3,000 people being paid money per hour to go to the polls and monitor them.  Democrats are saying you're trying to suppress the vote.

MR. GILLESPIE:  Not at all, Tim.  In fact, we are trying to register new voters.  We registered 3.4 million voters in this cycle.  We're reaching out to non-traditionally Republican voters, trying to get them to vote Republican.

And I'll tell you what's going on in Ohio that is a concern.  If you look at Franklin County, the center of the state, a very important county in the election, there are 815,000 people according to the census, 18 or older eligible to vote.  There are 845,000 registered voters.  There are 20 counties in Colorado where there are more registered voters than there are eligible voters.  In Ohio, there was a report yesterday in the paper of a charged terrorist who was plotting to blow up the Columbus Mall being registered to vote.  We've seen people there filing false registrations in exchange for crack cocaine.  People with fictitious characters being registered to vote, Dick Tracy and Mary Poppins.

In New Mexico, we've seen 13- and 15-year-olds get registration cards in the mail they didn't even ask for.  In Nevada, we've had illegal immigrants being registered to vote.  In Florida, there are 46,000 voters who are registered to vote in Florida and in New York.

Now, it's important that every vote count.  We don't want to see anyone disenfranchised by the rightful vote being denied, but at the same time, we don't want to have people disenfranchised by having their honest vote canceled out by a fraudulent vote.  And I guarantee you, Tim, if Dick Tracy and Mary Poppins vote, they're voting for John Kerry.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you have monitors at the voting booths challenging perspective voters, you could delay the balloting, causing huge lines and discourage people to go home without voting.

MR. GILLESPIE:  Tim, there's a new provision under HAVA, the Help America Vote Act which is for provisional balloting.  And the fact is people are going to cast provisional ballots all over the country in this election.  You have to know whether or not those provisional ballots are legitimate and you have to question as to whether or not somebody comes in and they're not registered or somebody is registered multiple times.  Again in Colorado, we had a woman register 35 times.  Now, if somebody could go and register and vote one place, go and cast provisional ballots in three or four other precincts, we can't count those votes.  If somebody votes four times, my one vote is diminished and it's canceled out by those three or four votes.  We've got to make sure this is an honest election and I'm concerned by the widespread fraud that's going on in terms of registrations around the country.

MR. RUSSERT:  Terry McAuliffe, there are reports out of Florida.  Tom Feeney, the Republican congressman down there, said that, "Kerry thugs harassing Bush voters who are in line trying to cast their vote for the president."  They were being mocked and scorned and yelled at by some of the Kerry supporters. What's going on?

MR. McAULIFFE:  Let's be very clear on this, Tim.  The goal of the Democratic Party is to make sure that everybody who has a right to vote in this country can go into those polls and can vote.  We know what the Republicans are trying to do.  They're going to try and disenfranchise voters.  We want everybody to vote.  It's the Republican Party today that is still under a consent decree because of 20 years of a history of voter suppression.

Now, who gets disenfranchised?  Predominantly, it's the African-American community which supports this party 92 percent of the time.  It's the Hispanic community that votes for this party 66 percent of the time.  There are two statewide investigations going on right now because of a company that was paid a half a million dollars by the Republican National Committee.  In Nevada and in Oregon, a young man, a registered Republican, who worked for this company was told he wouldn't be paid and to rip up any voter registration cards for Democrats.

We're not going to tolerate it.  We know what happened in 2000.  We know about the tens of thousands of people who were disenfranchised in Duval County, in other counties of Florida.  Our promise is we are prepared for it this time. It will not happen.  I want to encourage everybody to go vote in this election.  This is the most important election of our lifetime.  And I have spent four years dealing with these issues, started the Voting Rights Institute to make sure that we are promoting and protecting that right to vote in this country.  So I want everybody to feel comfortable.  When you go vote this time, we're going to make sure that you can go in, you can vote, and we are going to make sure that those votes get counted.  There's a big difference between our parties.

MR. RUSSERT:  Has the Democratic National Committee put together teams of lawyers and chartered jets to storm into an area is there are suggestions of irregularities on Election Night?

MR. McAULIFFE:  We will have 10,000 lawyers who will be at polling booths who are trained, A, to make sure that the polling booths open on time.  We had 106 million voters in the 2000 presidential election.  Tim, we could have 115 or 120 million in 2004.  We want to make sure that all of those voters can go into the polls.  We will have 2,500 in Florida.  They will be there with a badge that says "Voting Rights Institute."  We don't want anyone to leave those polls.  We want them to go in, we want them to vote, and if there are issues as relates to Florida that we had in 2000, we will quickly have people on the ground.  We just want everybody to vote.  It's a simple concept.  We don't want anybody to be denied.  There is a big difference between Democratic and Republican Party.  When people vote--Guess what?--John Kerry's going to win this election, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Could this election turn into just one big battle between lawyers?

MR. GILLESPIE:  Well, I hope not, Tim, and I am concerned, this 10,000 lawyers descending on the battleground states.  It's clear what the Democratic strategy is and what John Kerry's strategy is.  And they sent a memo out to the people on the ground saying alleged tactics of voter intimidation by Republicans, even where none exist.  The fact is that the firm in Nevada, we have clear direction to anybody who does work for us, register everyone, bring people into the process.  That was the directive given by that firm, and in fact that person is suing the person who's making the charge for slander because he says it's factually inaccurate.

The fact is what you're seeing with these lawyers and where the Democrats are taking this election is that if John Kerry loses, which I suspect he's going to on Election Night, they're going to sue.  They're going to sue and they're going to try and hall the electoral process into courtrooms across the country in hopes of finding activist, liberal judges who will subvert the will of the voters and impose their decision on the electorate.  I think it's a--I think it's disconcerting.

The fact is, and what Terry is saying here, that if non-U.S. citizens vote, if somebody votes two, three, four times, if somebody who is 15 years old goes in and votes, that those people have to have their votes counted.  We don't have to have their votes counted.  In Cook County, Illinois, in the Democratic primary, between 7 to 23 percent of provisional ballots that were cast were--actually ended up being counted because it's not like--provisional ballots aren't like absentee ballots or early votes.  They're provisional because they're questionable in the first place.  Not all of them count.

MR. McAULIFFE:  I just want to be clear.  Ed said something which is just absolutely outrageous.  We want to make sure that only the people who are allowed to vote legally have the right to vote should be able to vote.  No shenanigans.  I would join with Ed.  If you don't have a right to vote, then you should not vote.  But we have to be crystal clear.  There has been a pattern of disenfranchisement in this country.  Not one of us at this table has ever been disenfranchised.  When we've gone to vote, nobody has taken our pictures, no one has asked you, Mr. Russert, Mr. Gillespie or myself for multiple forms of identification when we go into the polling booths.

You know, in Maryland in the last governor's race, they handed out millions of fliers in black churches telling people to vote.  The date was a week after the election.  Somebody is doing those disenfranchisement activities.  Did I send out a 66-page manual and prepare?  You bet we did.  And I want you to pre-emptively go out and make sure that people's rights to vote are protected. That's all we want.  We want you to vote.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you some of the claims that have been made in the last few days of this election and kind of do a reality check.  Here is President Bush talking about John Kerry.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, Tuesday):

PRES. BUSH:  Let me just give you one more piece of evidence about why my opponent is not prepared and equipped to be the commander in chief.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Ed Gillespie, "prepared and equipped to be the commander in chief."  John Kerry was a decorated war hero, served in the United States Senate.  Even though the president may disagree with his views, is it fair to say that he's not prepared or equipped to be the commander in chief?

MR. GILLESPIE:  Tim, anyone who believes that we need to go back to a time when terrorism was a nuisance, anyone who has a foreign policy of national security advisor who says the war on terror is a metaphor, much like the war on poverty, the fact is his policies do not make him equipped to be president of the United States in the time when we are in a war on terror.  It is not a metaphor.  Al-Qaeda does not believe that this is a metaphoric war.  And we can't go back to when it was a nuisance.  It wasn't a nuisance when the USS Cole was blown up and 17 servicemen died, or when our embassies were bombed and 225 Americans died.  It's never been a nuisance.  We have to win this war.

MR. RUSSERT:  But John Kerry--Dick Cheney went this far.  He said, "If John Kerry was in charge, maybe the Soviet Union would still be in business."  Is that over the top?

MR. GILLESPIE:  It's not over the top, Tim.  When you look at his--when he ran in 1984 and he put out a memo and he said we need to cancel the MX missile, we need to cancel the weapons programs that were vital in winning the Cold War.  He opposed the first war in the--Gulf War in 1991, which means that if he had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in Kuwait today.  We found after that war that Saddam Hussein was closer to developing nuclear weapons than we ever realized.  So everything the vice president said is documented by John Kerry's record.  They don't like his record, they want to run from it, but they can't.  We're going to inform the American people about where John Kerry has stood for the past 20 years.

MR. RUSSERT:  I'm going to give you a chance.

MR. McAULIFFE:  Dick Cheney has to take a rest.  I mean, just look at this week.  In the beginning of the week, he said that nuclear missiles would be raining down on the United States of America.  Well, you know that?  That didn't work.  So now he's trying to say that the Soviets would still be in power.  He's got to stop this rhetoric.  It is ridiculous.  It is a dangerous world today.  John Kerry has voted for $4.4 trillion in defense appropriations.  John Kerry went to Vietnam.  He served this country with distinction.  He's had 40 years of service to this country, and it is over the top.  George Bush and Dick Cheney ought to knock it off.  Forty years of service.  He was a prosecutor, lieutenant governor, United States senator for 20 years and two tours of duty of Vietnam.

MR. GILLESPIE:  Yeah.

MR. McAULIFFE:  He knows how to defend this country, I promise you that, Mr. Russert.  And he will make this country safer.  George Bush has made this nation less safe because of his arrogant, go-it- alone foreign policy.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you something that John Kerry said about George Bush's future plans.  Let's listen.

(Videotape, September 24, 2004):

SEN. KERRY:  The young students wondering whether they are going to be finding a world in which there's a draft when they get out of college.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  A military draft:  George Bush is against it; John Kerry is against it.  The vast majority of both houses of Congress are on the record against it.  The military is against it.  Why is John Kerry raising it as an issue?

MR. McAULIFFE:  Because you know today we have nine out of our 10 active service folks are committed over in Iraq today.  If we had an issue in North Korea, the generals say themselves today that we don't have enough troops to handle another conflict somewhere else in the world.  Generals, Tony McPeak, four-star general in the Air Force, ran Gulf War I, says we don't have enough troops today.  So it is an issue that should be discussed out there.  It is a very active--and I say to young people across the country, this possibly could happen because George Bush has made us less safe.  And because George Bush says that we're not going to have a draft, George Bush also said there were weapons of mass destruction.  He said he'd create jobs, he'd fund education, fund health care.  George Bush has no credibility, and that's why he's going to lose.

MR. RUSSERT:  Not a scare tactic in order to whip up the college vote?

MR. McAULIFFE:  If we had a conflict somewhere else in the world today, we don't have enough troops.  Now, why did the Pentagon on last Thursday, Tim, say that may have to have a draft for doctors?  That is George Bush's Pentagon.  Go check the facts.  They say we may have to have a draft for doctors.

MR. GILLESPIE:  Tim, it is long-standing military doctrine in the United States that a volunteer army is the best army, that they--not only do George Bush and Dick Cheney oppose a military draft, but the Pentagon is opposed to it because cost of conscription is higher, the turnover is higher.  You don't develop an officer corps.  People don't choose to stay for a career.  Morale is lower.  They're opposed to it.

We're not going to have a draft.  This is a scare tactic, just like the notion that president's going to privatize Social Security, just like these charges of voter suppression, because you know why?  The latest poll shows that 18 percent of African-Americans are voting for George W. Bush, double what it was in 2000, so they're resorting to scare tactics.  And the same thing with blue-collar workers.  If the president's re-elected, then we're not going to have overtime pay.  It's the worst kind of politics of fear.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mentioned private...

MR. McAULIFFE:  Forget the nuclear weapons this week from Dick Cheney, but OK.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mentioned privatizing Social Security.  Let me show you an article from The New York Times last Sunday, written by Ron Suskind.  And he quotes George Bush speaking before the Republican National Committee Regents, a group of supporters:  "`I'm going to come out strong after my swearing in,' Bush said, with fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatizing of Social Security.  The victories he expects in November, he said will give us, `two years, at least, until the next midterm.  We have to move quickly, because after that, I'll be quacking like a duck,'" meaning a lame duck.  John Kerry then went on the campaign, said, "You heard the president.  He's going to privatize Social Security, it's his January surprise."

MR. GILLESPIE:  Yeah.  Well, look, Ron Suskind is someone who's been described accurately in print as a Bush antagonist.  The fact is that this is a report of a report that he heard somebody who says they heard the president.  I was at these events, obviously, it's an RNC event.  The president never talked about privatizing Social Security.  His policy...

MR. RUSSERT:  The White House could release a transcript, but they haven't done so.

MR. GILLESPIE:  His policy is clear, Tim.  He is in favor of allowing younger voters to divert a portion of their payroll tax to a government-approved private account to harness the growth, because if we don't Social Security's going to go bankrupt.  When my children go into the system, it's not going to be there for them.  We need to save the system.  The president's got an innovative plan.  The American people know what it is, and these kind of scare tactics won't work at the end of the day.

MR. RUSSERT:  Should the White House release the transcripts so we can know what the president said?

MR. GILLESPIE:  I don't speak for the White House.  I was there, and the fact is--I think I was at this event.  We know Ron Suskind is someone--this is like Kitty Kelley journalism.  It's reporting on...

MR. RUSSERT:  Has the president ever said privatizing Social Security?

MR. GILLESPIE:  No.  The president has talked about allowing for private accounts and diverting some- -allowing younger workers, especially--but the first option is, if you don't want to change the system, or stay in the system as it is you stay in the system as it is.

MR. RUSSERT:  Terry McAuliffe, John Kerry has not put forward any solution for our Social Security problem.  We're going to double the number of people on it.  People's life expectancy--they're going to be on Social Security for 15 years, and no one knows how we're going to pay for it.

MR. McAULIFFE:  Well, we are in a problem today because of George Bush's fiscal recklessness.  As you know, he is--the deficit this year is, you know, $419 billion.  That's George Bush's fiscal irresponsibility that has got us in the problem today.  What John Kerry has said--and first and foremost, he will not allow any privatization.  As relates to this New York Times piece, the reporter said he spoke to two people who were in the room.  So, you know, Republicans always come out and discredit the journalists.  These were people who were actually in the room.

George Bush wants to privatize Social Security.  John Kerry won't do it.  We are not going to put Social Security on a Wall Street roulette wheel.  I mean, what if these people had taken their money out and invested it in Enron?  It would be bankrupt today.  It would cost $1 trillion to do the privatization that George Bush talks about.  We have a commitment to these seniors.  This is a program started by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and this is--we owe these people.  This is a commitment that we have to these seniors in our country today, and we shouldn't tinker with it.  We shouldn't reduce the benefits.  We shouldn't raise the retirement age.

But when we bring fiscal responsibility back--John Kerry twice in 1993 and 1997 fought in the Congress to reduce our deficits to new balanced budgets. We can add, like Bill Clinton did--he had two years of surpluses, Tim.  That added decades to the financial viability of Social Security.  You get John Kerry in office, we will get back to surpluses, not the deficits that we have with George Bush today.  And that will strengthen Social Security for many years to come.

MR. RUSSERT:  We're talking about doubling the number of people on Social Security, and they're going to be there for 15 years...

MR. McAULIFFE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...because life expectancy is close to 80.  Neither candidate has put forward a plan that adds up.  But let me move on to another picture of John Kerry this week.  Here he is, in full dress uniform, hunting, carrying a shotgun.  What was the purpose of that photo op, Terry McAuliffe?

MR. McAULIFFE:  Well, first of all, John Kerry is a lifelong avid hunter, and he was out hunting.  It is hunting season going on today.  And I think there is a lot of demagoguery that goes on as it relates to the Republicans trying to go out in rural communities and, first and foremost, say that, you know, "The Democrats are going to take your guns away."  Nobody, no hunter--let me be very clear--has lost their gun in the last 10 years.  The only hunters who have lost their guns in the last 10 years, Tim, have been those hunters who have had to sell their weapons, their firearms, because they can't afford to get by day-to-day because of George Bush's fiscal irresponsibility and the huge that deficits we have today.

People have middle-class squeeze today.  They've seen their wages decline. They've seen the cost of health care go up 50 percent.  Education's gone up 35 percent.  Local property taxes, state taxes have gone up.  So John Kerry's an avid hunter.  He's been hunting his whole life and he was out there conveying a message:  Democrats, A, aren't going to take your gun away, and he enjoys hunting.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dick Cheney said it was an "October disguise."

MR. McAULIFFE:  Well, listen to Dick Cheney, who, as I say, this week alone has threatened that nuclear weapons would be falling on every neighborhood in America; now says the Soviets would still be in power.  I mean, Dick Cheney and George Bush have no credibility.  This administration can be summed up as an abject failure.  They have no credibility because they failed America on every single issue.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you another photo op...

MR. GILLESPIE:  OK.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...press conference this week.  Christopher Reeve died, as we all know.  His wife has taken the on the battle for embryonic stem cell research, and she took the unusual step of endorsing John Kerry.  These are her words.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, Thursday):

MRS. DANA REEVE:  And my inclination would be, frankly, to remain private for a good long while.  But I came here today in support of John Kerry because this is so important.

And I'm here today because John Kerry, like Christopher Reeve, believes in keeping our hope alive.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Ed Gillespie, do you think expanding embryonic stem cell research, and the federal role in it, is a sleeper issue that cuts across all party lines and could help John Kerry in this race?

MR. GILLESPIE:  I think it's an issue where there is more misinformation than possibly any other issue in this campaign.  The fact is, President Bush is the first president of the United States to ever federally fund embryonic stem-cell research.  He did it within the parameters of the principles of a respect for a culture of life, which he believes in.  The fact is that, also, there is stem-cell research, embryonic stem- cell research, continuing unabated in the private sector.  There is no ban, as the Democrats would have people believe.  Adult stem-cell research, which also holds out great promise, is a beneficiary of federal funds and goes on unabated in the private sector.  So I think the more people know the truth about the president's policies, the better off we're going to be.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is it an issue that's cutting against the president right now?

MR. GILLESPIE:  I have not seen indications that it's an issue that's cutting against the president right now, because I think we are getting the facts out there and people understand he is the first president to ever federally fund embryonic stem-cell research.

MR. McAULIFFE:  The stem cells that we have now for the research are not the stem cells that we need.  The physicists, the medical technicians who deal in this area say that the stem cells that the president has authorized won't do us any good.  They won't help us with diabetes or spina bifida.  We need much broader, newer embryonic stem cells in order to do the research that we need to help Americans across this country.

It's another issue that, once again, George Bush has turned his back on the people in this nation who need help the most.  You know, that's why John Kerry's out there fighting near new embryonic stem cells so that we can really have this kind of research.  That's why he's fighting for a minimum-wage increase, for equity pay for women.  I mean, these are very serious issues, and that's why I say this is the most important election we've faced in our lifetime.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we go, do you think when the American people go to sleep on Tuesday, November 2, they will know who their next president is?

MR. McAULIFFE:  I do believe they will.

MR. GILLESPIE:  I think this is going to be a close race down to the wire, but my gut is--and there's no data that supports this, but I've been in a campaign every other year for the past 20 years.  My gut tells me that this is a race that at the end breaks fairly decisively for the president.

MR. RUSSERT:  Final percentages?

MR. GILLESPIE:  I don't want to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  You're not very confident.

MR. GILLESPIE:  I am confident.  I'm just not--Terry is the predictor.

MR. McAULIFFE:  All right.  All right.  We're going to know Election Night. I think we're going to know relatively early, but I tell everybody in this country assume we're 20 points down.  That's the only way to do it.  We need a record voter turnout on Election Day.  I promise you, I promise you that in this election, when you go vote, we're going to make sure that your vote gets counted, and at the end of the night, John Kerry will be the president elect of the United States of America because he's going to take care of middle-class working families in this nation who are desperately in need of help.

MR. RUSSERT:  Final percentage for the president and for John Kerry.

MR. McAULIFFE:  I'm fine with 270 electoral votes.

MR. RUSSERT:  To be continued.  Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat, Ed Gillespie, the Republican, good luck to both of you.

MR. McAULIFFE:  Thanks, Ed.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, our political roundtable:  David Broder of The Washington Post, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, Gwen Ifill of PBS' "Washington Week" and Byron York of the National Review.  What should the voters be looking for over the final nine days of this amazing campaign? Coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Insights and analysis from our roundtable after this brief station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Let me show our roundtable those poll numbers again.  Newsweek, 48-46; Time, 51-46; Zogby, 47-45.  All favor Bush.  As I mentioned, the ABC-Washington Post out this morning, 49-48.  David Broder, what do you make of it all?

MR. DAVID BRODER:  Polls aren't helping us very much.  We've got a tie election in national terms.  But this is not a national election.  It's 51 elections.  And the key thing, I think, Tim, is that--there are three very clear groups of voters:  those who are voting on terrorism, those who are voting on Iraq, and those who are voting on the economy.  Those who are voting on terrorism, are going heavily for the president.  Those who are voting on the other two issues, are leaning to Senator Kerry.  Much will depend on what is in the news this final seven days because there are still people making up their minds.

MR. RUSSERT:  On that point, Andrew Kohut of Pew Research, Gwen Ifill, had this to say:  "While many Americans are strongly committed to re-electing President Bush or getting rid of him, there remains a relatively large bloc of swing voters who are critical of the president who still cannot comfortably back Senator John Kerry.  This cross-pressure remains the dilemma of millions of uncommitted voters."

MS. GWEN IFILL:  And it's our dilemma, too.  Isn't it fun not to know?  It seems like there are three-- I've got my own three things that people have to watch out for.  Who is going to go to the polls?  You can listen to Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe squabble over exactly who is going to be qualified to vote.  That's what that's about.  Who's going to stay home? That's also what that's about, because we don't know how many of these last-minute tactics are going to suppress the vote and people are going to say, "It doesn't matter; I'll stay home."  And then what issues in this last week are going to drive those people either to stay home or to go.  And we don't know what that is which is why for the last week they've been throwing everything at the wall that will stick, whether it's fear, whether it's women's issues, whether it's the war, whether it's Social Security.  It's just trying to drive or keep home enough voters to make the difference.

MR. RUSSERT:  John and Byron, I asked Ed Gillespie about the conventional wisdom and the tradition that if an incumbent wasn't at 50 percent going into Election Day, that the undecided voters would break disproportionately for the challenger because they hadn't been convinced that the incumbent should stay in office.  What's your sense of this year?  Is it going to be different?  And which will be dominant in those undecided voters' minds?  Iraq, economy or terrorism?

MR. BYRON YORK:  I think if you look at the latest Wall Street Journal poll and you ask people "What is the single most important issue?," the highest number is the economy.  But the next two are the war on terror and Iraq.  And when you combine the people who are concerned about the war on terror and Iraq, it's a bigger number than those who are concerned about the economy and health care combined.  And then there's a--then when you also ask people "What's more important, a candidate who agrees with you on the issues or a candidate who is a strong and decisive leader?," and, unlike 2000, in which agreeing on the issues was the most important thing for them, now it's a strong and decisive leader.

Voters clearly think Bush is better prepared to handle the war on terror, and it drives Democrats crazy.  But in the polls, general polls, they show that they feel Bush is better prepared to handle Iraq.  Clearly he's behind Kerry on health care and the economy.  But when you combine all that together it appears to me that Bush has a little bit of edge in this idea of "Will he keep us safe?," which is what Republicans think is going to be the final question that people have before they go to the polls.

MR. RUSSERT:  So those undecided voters may break for an incumbent, which would be unusual in terms of previous elections, John Harwood?

MR. JOHN HARWOOD:  Some Democrats, Tim, are concerned that the undecideds will not follow the traditional, historical pattern of breaking, say, 3-to-2 for the challenger in a race like this.  But, really, everything turns on the composition of the electorate.  You can make sense of a lot of the polls if you look at the different assumptions that both sides bring to them.  If the electorate looks like it did in 1996 and 2000, four percentage points more Democrats than Republicans showing up to the polls, John Kerry is very likely to win this race.  But if it looks like Karl Rove and the Bush campaign are planning on, an even balance of Democrats and Republicans, George Bush's chances are quite good.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, we asked, in our NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that Byron mentioned, a question about whether this presidential election makes a difference in your life.  Look at this:  72 percent of Americans say this election matters to them and makes a difference.  The last time an incumbent ran for re-election in October '96, Bill Clinton-Bob Dole, it was just 40 percent.  People have a real interest in this race, don't they?

MR. BRODER:  Well, and credit President Bush for that because he has been an enormously consequential president, not only because of Iraq--although that's the overriding thing for which he would be known if the histories were written right now--but because of all of the major policy shifts on the domestic side. There's no area of policy that you can talk about where this president has not had significant--some would say even radical--changes in three and a half years.  And people understand that.

I need to put one quick footnote on the point that Byron made.  It is true that when you ask people who do you trust more to handle Iraq?  They say President Bush over Kerry.  But if you ask the people who say, "Iraq is the most important issue to me," how they're planning to vote, Kerry wins among those voters.  And that's why I think the more that Iraq is in the news these next eight days, the more Kerry is likely to benefit.

MS. IFILL:  I will...

MR. HARWOOD:  On the interest level, it is plain that voters see this as a big issue election.  And one of the things to watch is very, very high interest amongst older voters.  That's going to be important in Florida when we see the Social Security argument playing out over the next week or so.

MS. IFILL:  And I just want to put a footnote on something David said.  When you talk about a consequential president, that's good and that's bad because a lot of the consequence of 2000 and a lot of consequence of this presidency is an incredible and very firm negative backlash against this presidency, people who are convinced they don't want 2000 to happen again.

I listen to a lot of black radio, and there's nowhere you can turn where they are not saying, "Vote, vote, vote.  This is the election of your life."  Now, I don't know what that means, but I know that that isn't measured by pollsters.  And nobody can measure who that reaches and how many people that motivates, but it's not being talked about now like it was four years ago.

MR. HARWOOD:  We show a higher intensity in our poll among blacks than among whites in this election.  That could be a hidden asset for John Kerry.

MS. IFILL:  Definitely.

MR. RUSSERT:  There seems to be intensity with young voters, first-time voters, new registrants, who all use cell phones...

MS. IFILL:  If they show up.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and can't be polled.  But who knows if they're going to vote?

MR. YORK:  hat is the big question on the cell phone issue.  And I have not seen any proof to my satisfaction that young people who only use cell phones are significantly different from the other type of people who are actually being polled.  I think this is something--there's a bit of hopefulness in it. Joe Trippy, who was Howard Dean's campaign manager, says this is a lot, that there's a huge uncounted electorate out there that's going to break for Kerry. It's really not clear that that's true at all.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, Labor Department put out some job numbers, employment numbers, unemployment numbers.  Wisconsin lost 7,000 jobs; Minnesota lost 2,200; Florida lost 9,000 jobs.  Ohio and Pennsylvania ticked up a little bit.  What does the economy, the job numbers mean for George Bush in the final nine days?

MR. BRODER:  Well, they're not what he would have hoped, and Iowa could be added to that list as well as the states--battleground states that lost jobs in the most recent readings.  I think that the economic issue has been pretty well settled for the voters who are voting on that issue.  The Bush administration does not have a positive record on the economy as far as most voters are concerned.  And to the extent that that becomes a driving issue, and it obviously is for many people--I was up in Pennsylvania most recently, and it's clearly an issue there.  And if Kerry carries that state again, as I think he may very well do, it will be because of the economy.

MS. IFILL:  I was in Ohio talking to a steel worker who's been out of a job for 11 years--11 months after 38 years working, and he's supporting George W. Bush.  And I said, "Well, you know, you're out of work and the economy is so bad.  Why are you supporting the president?"  And he said, "Because I don't blame him for that."  And that is part of what you're seeing here, which is I don't think--people know things are bad, but they're not necessarily laying that at the feet of the president because they have other concerns.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Kerry's campaign has all hope in Ohio based on one simple number.  George Bush carried the state by 171,000 votes, and yet there is 200,000-plus lost jobs.  Is that going to connect on Election Day?

MR. HARWOOD:  A huge percentage of the national job loss is focused on that state.  Democrats have very, very high hopes for Ohio, somewhat higher, actually, than they do for the state of Florida.  They think they can win without Florida.  Although, if they can sweep all three--Ohio, Florida and...

MR. RUSSERT:  Pennsylvania?

MR. HARWOOD:  ...Pennsylvania--they could with lose some states--they could withstand the loss of states like Wisconsin and Iowa in the Midwest, which they may lose.

MR. YORK:  You know, the biggest Democratic outside group, 527 group, America Coming Together, has virtually bet the bank on Ohio, putting millions and millions of dollars and thousands of people in.  And they're going--buses from Washington and New York and various places into Ohio trying to register people.  So if Bush were to lose because of Ohio, I think the recriminations game would be the fact that the president did not go to Ohio between October 2 and October 22, although the campaign people tell me he's going back there a lot in the next nine days.  But I think that that could be--if he loses because of that, you're definitely going to see accusations.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why didn't he go for those two weeks?

MR. YORK:  Well, they say that--one, they say that their private polls show them ahead, just as Democrats will tell you that their private polls show them ahead, and they don't believe it's as close.  One reason that you've seen the president go to some places where he might--he probably won't win, like Pennsylvania, where they think they could, but New Jersey, where they won't--is he wants to win the popular vote.  This is something that's not talked about that much.  But the fact that he lost the popular vote in 2000 was a huge handicap in the first months of the presidency.  It was not unusual at the time when something good happened, like the tax bill passed, a White House aide would say something like, "You know, I think you really became president today."  This was very troubles.  And September 11 washed that all away, but it could come back if you had a similar situation.  So he wants to pile up votes in states even if he doesn't win, because winning the popular vote is very important to him.

MR. HARWOOD:  But, you know, the irony is, Tim, if anybody wins the popular vote and loses the electoral vote in this election, it's more likely to be George Bush than John Kerry.  A lot of the national margin that George Bush has been building up in some of these polls--a narrow margin, 2 or 3 points--is in non-battleground states.  John Kerry's doing better in the battleground states.  We could end up with a reverse of the 2000 situation.

MR. BRODER:  And something that we've all forgotten, because it happened so long ago, but the shifts of--in Electoral College allocations to the states works to President Bush's advantage.  If he carried exactly the same states as he did last time, and there were no changes at all, he would have a bigger margin in the Electoral College.

MR. RUSSERT:  He'd have 278 rather than 271.

MR. BRODER:  Exactly.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Kerry would go from Gore's 267 down to 260.  But if John Kerry could peel off New Hampshire and West Virginia, David Broder, it'd be 269 to 269.

MR. BRODER:  Don't even raise that one, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  We're going to take a quick break.  We'll be right back with more Roundtable after this.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back, gentlemen and lady.  Animals have taken a role in the political commercials of 2004.  Here's a Bush-Cheney ad featuring a wolf.

(Videotape, Bush-Cheney 2004 ad):

Announcer:  John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America's intelligence operations, and weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "Weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm," David Broder.

MR. BRODER:  Well, it's a fine ad, but it's not as good as the bear ad was in the Reagan re-election campaign.  That was a piece of genius.

MR. HARWOOD:  The bear was scarier than the wolves, though.

MR. BRODER:  Oh, much scarier.  And the...

MS. IFILL:  Oh, I think the wolves are scarer than the bear.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you, really?

MS. IFILL:  There are several of them.  I don't know.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.  Well, wait, wait, wait.  Let's show the eagles and ostrich.  And we do have the bear, too, but here's the eagles and ostrich. This is the Democratic National Committee.

(Videotape, Democratic National Committee Ad):

Announcer:  The eagle soars high above the Earth.  The ostrich buries its head in the sand.  Given the choice in these challenging times, shouldn't we be the eagle again?

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Byron.

MR. YORK:  You know, a Republican said to me yesterday.  He said, "If you just showed that eagle- ostrich ad to somebody and then later said, `OK.  Which one is the eagle and which one is the ostrich?' they feel very strongly that most people would think the eagle is George W. Bush."  They said, "I hope they run it everywhere."  Of course, they're not going to.

MR. RUSSERT:  John.

MR. HARWOOD:  You know, I think voters have been so inundated with candidate visits, with advertising in these battleground states--in the last few days, hardly anything has moved in the battleground states.  I'm not sure either of these two ads is going to move the needle.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.  By popular request of Mr. Broder, Ms. Ifill, here's the bear ad from 1984 supporting Ronald Reagan.

(Videotape, 1984 Republican National Committee ad):

Announcer:  There's a bear in the woods.  For some people, the bear is easy to see.  Others don't see it at all.  Some people say the bear is tame.  Others say it's vicious and dangerous.  Since no one can really be sure who's right, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear if there is a bear?

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  There is a bear.  It really is a metaphor for this election, too, David--Republicans saying George Bush, strong leader, the world is safer because Saddam Hussein is gone; Democrats saying, "Nonsense.  George Bush has led us in the wrong way.  America's less safe.  Iraq is now a haven for terrorism."  Quite striking.

MR. BRODER:  We forget now how tense we were during the Cold War and why that bear ad really resonated with people, but I don't think that there was anything in the Cold War, at least by the time we got to '84, that was nearly as disturbing to as many people as the news these days out of Iraq.  And if the president can win this re-election despite what's happening in Iraq, they will have done really I think a remarkable political job.

MR. YORK:  But we're really talking about the war on terror, too.  I mean, the World Trade Center survived the Cold War and did not survive al-Qaeda. And I think that's what this--you know, when you see that pack of wolves, you think--I think you think of al-Qaeda just as much as you thought of the Soviet Union when you saw the bear.  And I think that the wolf ad is actually very important and it's not about Iraq as much as the war on terror and the people who want to kill it.

MR. RUSSERT:  When you see that pack of wolves, do you think of Saddam Hussein?

MR. YORK:  I don't.

MS. IFILL:  No.  You think of all of the uncertainties, the Hydra-headed threat.  You're not thinking about one--the bear was just communism.  You knew that there was this one--not to take this whole thing too far, but with the wolves, it's all the uncertainty.  And at the end, they're walking toward you. They're all stalking you.  They're not--the bear is looking at a guy, but these guys are coming towards you.  A personal sense of threat.  I mean, we don't know now whether it's going to be wolves or ostriches or Dick Tracy, as Ed Gillespie was talking about, or Pat Robertson or Teresa Heinz.  Any one of these things could tip those--whoever those undecided voters are that we don't know if they actually exist tip them one way or the other and nothing like a lasting scary image to do it.

MR. HARWOOD:  And one thing, Gwen, I think that it does underscore is that George Bush has been surprisingly resilient politically this year despite all the bad news that David talked about, bad news on the economy as well, and so much of it flows from the projection of personal strength that he's managed to achieve throughout his presidency since 9/11.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let's talk about what the chairmen said.  They both believe that Americans would go to bed on Tuesday, November 2, knowing who the president is.  Do you think so?

MR. YORK:  You know, on the theory that Florida was absolutely freakish in a result that close is absolutely freakish, I tend to think that we actually will know who the president is going to be, that there'll certainly be some litigations in a few states and there may be a few states that are close, but the idea of a state the size of Florida having a 500-vote margin is just--logically, I think it's difficult to predict again.

MS. IFILL:  And I do think it's correct that there's going to be a lot of litigation no matter what happens.

MR. HARWOOD:  Yeah.

MS. IFILL:  I think--I mean, there are these 10,000--and even a lawyer who's still in Washington, D.C., this weekend, they all scattered, Republicans and Democrats, to all of these states.  So no matter what happens--I mean, I do think it's possible to go home early on Election Night.  Lord knows I'm praying for that, but it's really possible also that at the very least it's decided that--not decided for days on end.

MR. RUSSERT:  Voter suppression, David.  Voter intimidation.  Jets chartered at the ready on Election Night, 10,000 lawyers.  What do we have to look forward to?

MR. BRODER:  Well, I hope we can kind of keep a grip on our emotions.  People are much more pumped up about this election than they were going into the vote in 2000.  And we got through the experience of the 36 days and all of the controversies in 2000.  I think if there were to be another kind of a closely contested and doubtful outcome this time, it would be much tougher emotionally on the country.

MR. RUSSERT:  John?

MR. HARWOOD:  The cure for litigation, lawyers, anguish for days after the election, is a decisive result.  One of these two guys is going to win by a couple of percentage points and clear the 270-vote bar by 20 votes or so.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here is the cover of Time magazine.  It's entitled--for--coming out tomorrow.  It's entitled The Morning After.  And it says that "No matter who wins, to the victor goes a nation divided, a nation split over its place in the world, over its basic values, its future direction.  The uncivil war is likely to continue after such a venomous campaign.  Will it be possible to pick up the pieces, bridge the gaps, reunite the United States, restore trust not only in our leaders but also in one another?  The stakes are higher than we could ever imagine."

Do you agree with that?

MR. YORK:  I do think that it is possible.  I mean, the stakes are certainly very high.  And the path that we take on the war on terrorism is very high. On the other hand, I do think, especially if we have a decisive election by a couple of points, if John Kerry is president, he's going to be president, and certainly Republicans are going to be pressing him to try to continue a lot of Bush's policies.  But we know what's going to happen, and I do think that there will be sort of national unity.  I do not see sort of a rebellion or a secession of people who wanted Bush to be president or, vice versa, people who wanted Kerry to be president.

MS. IFILL:  I think you're right, but I think we're hanging an awful lot on the outcome of this election.  I think that the divisions in the country go deeper than just who is president.  And they're not going to go away because one guy wins or the other guy wins.  It's still going to be there.  Now, maybe that's a healthy thing, and it means we're going to have four years of honest and engaged public participation and debate.  But I think to assume that because one of these men wins decisively, the rest of the Americas who voted the other way who feel strongly about a sense of issues are just going to say, "OK, everything's fine now."  No, we're still going to be in Iraq.  We're still going to have the specter of terrorism.  All of these questions are still going to be unanswered.  And just a new president is not going to answer them.

MR. HARWOOD:  It may also mean four years of domestic gridlock, given the fact that Congress is going to be evenly divided.  If John Kerry is elected, he's going to have a Republican House, most likely a Republican Senate.  And George W. Bush isn't going to have much of a working margin in any event.

MR. RUSSERT:  David, not only Iraq, a $422 billion deficit, and Social Security and Medicare in place for a baby boom generation.  The number of people on those programs is going to go from 40 million to 80 million, and, because of longevity, we're going to be on those programs for 15 years.

MR. BRODER:  Whoever is sitting in the Oval Office next January 21 is going to face really tough challenges like those that you've mentioned.  And if that person's first priority is not to try to re-establish some kind of a tone that permits dialogue and discussion in this city, in the Congress, and among the people who are working in this city, whoever it is, Kerry or Bush, probably has no chance to deal with those problems.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we go, what should the voters be looking for over the next nine days?

MS. IFILL:  They should probably keep their heads down because I think--I mean, unless...

MR. RUSSERT:  Like an ostrich.

MS. IFILL:  ...we're--like an ostrich.  Perhaps they're going to sit there and they're going to look for hopefulness or this message of hope and these guys are going to turn the corner and start saying nice things about the future of America.  I doubt it.  It's too close.  The stakes are too high.  So I do think that Americans, most of whom have probably made up their minds, whether they'll admit it or not, need to just keep their heads down, vote early and often, as they say in Chicago, and just try to stay out of the way.

MR. RUSSERT:  David?

MR. BRODER:  I think it's a good year to vote early, particularly.  If you have a way of getting to the polls before Election Day, do it, because I think the lines are going to be incredible on Election Day.

MR. RUSSERT:  John?

MR. HARWOOD:  In fact, the lines are already pretty long in some places.  I was in Palm Beach County, Florida, this past week, people were waiting in line a half-hour to vote early.  A lot of electioneering outside the elections office.  There's tremendous intensity and it's going to be a high turnout.

MR. YORK:  It is down to the battle of the super fantastic turnout plans.  And Democrats and their 527 groups have poured zillions of dollars into this. Republicans don't like to talk about it as much, but they say we're very, very strong, we--you know, and they've poured at least as much money into it as the Democrats have.  So it's really going to be a test to see which guy--you know, does plan A work or does plan B work.  They're attacking it in different ways. But they say that they're going to get more people than ever before, and I think they're probably right about that.

MR. RUSSERT:  What a race.  Gwen Ifill, David Broder, John Harwood, Byron York, thank you all, and we'll be right back right after this.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Two NBC News Decision 2004 exclusives.  Senator John Kerry sits down with Katie Couric tonight on "Dateline" and tomorrow morning on "Today," plus Vice President Dick Cheney with Jamie Gangel tomorrow morning on the "Today" program.

That's all for today.  We'll be back next week, live from NBC's Democracy Plaza in New York City, our election site.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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