Veteran reporter and anchorman Bob Schieffer hosted the third and final debate between the presidential contenders this Wednesday night at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. President Bush hoped to come back strong in the third debate, attacking Senator Kerry’s record while bolstering his own. Kerry walked in with the advantage of the last two debates and continued in his effort to solidify his position. Both candidates stuck to slogans hashed out in the previous weeks and let out few surprises in this debate on domestic policy.
Though there were few surprises, according to independent watch-group Annenberg Political Fact Check, there were plenty of misstatements and distortions that remained present from the previous two debates.
Kerry twice repeated his claim that 1.6 million jobs have been lost under Bush, which counts only private sector jobs and disregards a one million job gain in public service. Touting his health care plan, Kerry once again stated he had a plan to cover “all Americans.” In reality, his plan would raise the percentage of insured from 84 percent to about 93 percent, still leaving millions uninsured.
Bush also had misstatements. Exaggerating the training program in Iraq, he said, “We’ll have 125,000 troops trained by the end of this year.” These 125,000 include only about 8,000 fully trained policemen, and a mixed bag of what Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage calls “the shake-and-bake three-week police force.” Bush, attacking Kerry’s record, again said Kerry “voted to increase taxes 98 times.” That total includes up to 16 votes on a single tax bill, and 43 votes on budget measures that set targets but don’t actually legislate tax increases.
Bush also denied Kerry’s allegations that Bush wasn’t concerned with Osama Bin Laden. He called Kerry’s paraphrase of Bush an exaggeration, but in reality it was very accurate. In a March 13, 2002, interview, Bush stated about Bin Laden, “I truly am not that concerned about him.”
Kerry drew fire for his response on the divisive issue of Gay Marriage when he referred to Vice President Cheney’s lesbian daughter. Cheney’s wife denounced Kerry’s reference to Mary Cheney’s open lesbianism as a “cheap and tawdry political trick.” Mary Cheney herself declined to comment. Kerry said in a statement Thursday that he “was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with the issue.”
Overall Bush seemed much more confident this time around, and polling reflects a virtual tie between the candidates on this third and final contest. Both campaigns worked tirelessly to spin the debate in their favor, and both candidates walked away confident and ready for the final weeks of the election.
Since trailing Bush by a ten point margin in September, the polls show Kerry has clearly gained crucial ground on his opponent during these debates. According to the latest ABC News Tracking Poll, the two candidates are now in a dead heat for the Whitehouse.