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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Thursday, October 28, 2004; 1:00 PM

President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry have launched headfirst into the final stretch of the 2004 campaign.

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions on the campaigning, the candidates and last night's debate.

Terry Neal (post.com)

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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Terry Neal: Thanks everyone and welcome back to my weekly chat. Lots to talk about with the election coming up in a few days. I look forward to taking your questions.



Oxford, UK: How seriously would it impair President Bush's ability to govern if he once again wins the electoral college but not the popular vote?

Terry Neal: We'll go international for our first question...I doubt it would impair him at all. Democrats would make a big deal about it, but from a technical standpoint, the president is still the president. Bush made a decision early in his term in 2001 that he was going to govern as if he had won in a landslide, and I don't get the sense that anything would be any different in the next term. What would impair him is if his party lost control of the Senate, which is a possibility, but at this point not a probability. Now having said that, there are many of us political observers here in Washington who believes that there is a better chance this year that Bush could win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College than the other way around. This is not a prediction that that will happen. But if you look at the state-by-state polls, what looks like has happened since 2000 is that Bush has increased his popularity in red states, while the blue states are more evenly split. But because the Electoral College is a winner-take-all system in all but two states, Bush could amass lots of votes in red states, and Kerry could beat him narrowly in enough blue states that Bush could end up with more popular votes and Kerry with more electoral votes.


Washington, D.C.: When will the litigation battles end?

I remember close elections -- such as Kennedy/Nixon in 1960, but this one is getting absurd. Once again, it appears that the course of the election is going to be decided in courtrooms, not in ballot boxes.

Does anybody actually believe that a straight count of cast ballots is actually going to decide this presidential election?

Terry Neal: I think it depends on how close it is. If this is a close election, as it was in 2000, I expect another round of litigation-crazed electoral madness. But if it's not close, it won't matter.


Alexandria, Va.: Do you think either of the candidate's camp has an October surprise up their sleeve? If so, do you think with the 5 days left it be too risky to launch one now, not knowing how the public may react to such act?

Terry Neal: If I knew that, it wouldn't be a surprise!
Seriously, though, I think it would depend on what the story is. In 2000, the Bush-drunk-driving revelation (a story broken on Fox News, by the way) didn't appear to do him too much damage--although some Republicans believe it depressed turn-out of evangelical voters a bit. So who knows.


New York, N.Y.: Forget the polls. I think election night we are going to see a clear winner and all the so-called "experts" will be scratching their heads saying "what happenened?" Do you agree? Or are we in for a looooong night on Nov. 2nd?

Terry Neal: You know, I wouldn't be surprised if Bush won convincingly, if Kerry won convincingly or if it is close. The truth is, we don't know. The national press core has a pack mentality and is also averse to making bold predictions. So the safe thing to do is rely on your most recent model (the 2000 presidential election) and the polls, which show a close race.
Think back to 1994. Many of the pundits gave R's the momentum going into the midterm elections that year, but few predicted the blowout that occurred. That's because it's impossible really to gauge intensity, which is an intangible factor that can't be polled or scientifically analyzed.
I would not be surprised at all if we are surprised by what happens on Tuesday.


Huntington, W.Va.: When did gerrymandering become respectable? A colleague and I support different parties, but both agree that in the 1960's and 70's when we took Political Science classes in college, gerrymandering was seen as an attempt for those in power to control votes--i.e., BAD. Now both parties are enthusiasts.

Terry Neal: Thanks for your question. Gerrymandering by definition is not a good thing, in that it means drawing districts to benefit one party or the other. On the other hand, dividing districts is always a subjective task. And given that politicians control it, it's no surprise that it's a common practice.
Gerrymandering, by the way, has also been used to create black and Hispanic majority districts, which has led to an increase in Congressional minority representation. One interesting side note, some Republicans, who initially opposed this type of gerrymandering, have come to happily accept it, because as a byproduct, it has tended to create more solidly Republican districts. There are some critics, on the left and the right, who believe racial/ethnic gerrymandering has ultimately strengthened the right.


Janesville, Wis.: How can John Kerry accuse the president of losing weapons in Iraq when it was the soldiers who were looking for the weapons? To complain about a very small percentage of weapons, that by the way Saddam was not supposed to have, is to criticize the men and women who are defending this great nation. It seems Kerry is always quick to accuse soldiers of not doing their job right, 1972-2004.

Terry Neal: Well, Kerry's logic is that Bush is the commander-and-chief and should have both emphasized the importance of securing these weapons and held those responsible for not doing so. That's Kerry's argument, not mine.
Now on the second part of your question: Hussein was not forbidden from having most conventional weapons. The U.N. recognized he had a limited right to arm his nation with conventional weapons (but not long-range missiles and that sort of thing.) The administration never claimed we were going to war because Hussein had bombs and explosives, but it certainly was important to secure stockpiles of those weapons, which in the hands of terrorists could do much damage. The rationale for war was that he had weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons, and was on the verge of reconstituting his nuclear program.


Santa Cruz, Calif.: This may sound crazy, but is there a possibility of a coat-tail effect for John Kerry from the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots? Voters like to vote for a winner, and maybe there are just enough sports fans out there who will look at the Patriots' winning streak and the Red Sox's World Series victory and say, "Hey, it's New England's year."

Terry Neal: Uh, no.


State College, Pa.: Hi Terry,
How do you think this ABCNews vidoetape story will play out? If it is authenticated and released, do you think it will have a major impact on the election?

Terry Neal:
This is a bizarre, scary story. But I have no way of predicting how it will play it. Neither ABC News or U.S. law enforcement and intelligence services have been able to authenticate this video, in which a purported al Qaeda spokesman threatens that blood will soon run in the streets of America in an attack that will dwarf 9/11.
If it is authenticated and run before the election, I'm not sure how it would effect the election, if at all. I think the most obvious answer would be that it could help Bush, because he does better when terrorism is at the forefront of people's minds. But I'm not sure about that. I don't think anyone can be.


washingtonpost.com: Alleged Terror Tape Gives ABC Pause (Post, Oct. 28)


Toronto, Canada: The more I learn about the US system of voting, the more amazed and appalled I become. Why can't the election system be federalized? By this I mean, have a non-partisan national body set district boundaries nationwide, set one national ballot format and one national method of counting and verifying votes and be in charge of certifying the vote count. After all, every state has a 55 mph speed limit and a 21 yr old drinking age enforced by the feds. I'm still shocked that partisan politicians run the election mechanics.

Terry Neal: I'll start with the latter part of your question and work my way back. First, you are incorrect: The states are allowed to set their own speed limits, and there are some very rural stretches of highway in places in the country where there is no speed limit at all. Similarly, and readers correct me if I'm wrong about this, but there is no federally required drinking age either. However, the federal government seeks to promote that drinking age with a strong carrot-and-stick approach that punishes states that don't set the limit at that age.
Now, as for voting, the most apparent answer is that the states have long resisted a federalized voting system, for various reasons. There are a lot of reasons for this that are too arcane to go into right now. But the current argument is that because each state is so different, it's not fair to impose one standard on all. What might work in Montana, say, might not work in New York.
We have been moving closer to a federalized system, however, with new mandates about things like provisional balloting coming out of Washington since the 2000 election debacle.
I imagine that if there are more problems like those experienced in Florida four years ago, we'll see pressure from some quarters for even more federal mandates.


Omaha, Neb.: Do you think the main stream media's initial reporting of the Iraq "bombs" story has been fair? Do you think Bush's response has effectively nutralized the issue as a wash?

Terry Neal: I think it's been pretty fair. I mean, look, news is an evolving process and it changes every day as new facts are discovered. If your question has to do with the proximity to the election, I guess I'd only say that news happens when it happens.


Terry Neal: Well folks, my time is up. It's been a pleasure. We'll have lots to talk about next week, same time same place. Chat with you then!



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