updated 10/14/2004 10:54:15 AM ET 2004-10-14T14:54:15

Guest: Liz Marlantes, Howard Fineman, Ben Ginsberg, Gov. Bill Richardson, Kathy Griffin, Mike Barnicle

RON REAGAN, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, the third and final presidential debate.  It was show time in the Arizona heat as President Bush and Senator John Kerry dueled in the desert like a couple of post-apocalyptic warriors out of “Blade Runner.” 

Well, maybe not that, but the presidential contenders had no shortage of harsh words for each other. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to remind people listening tonight that a plan is not a litany of complaints, and a plan is not to lay out programs that you can‘t pay for. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country. 

BUSH:  My opponent just this weekend talked about how terrorism could be reduced to a nuisance, comparing it to prostitution, illegal gambling.  I think that attitude and that point of view is dangerous. 

KERRY:  Six months after he said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive, this president was asked, where is Osama bin Laden?  He said, I don‘t know.  I don‘t really think about him very much.  I am not that concerned. 

We need a president who stays deadly focused on the real war on terror. 

BOB SCHIEFFER, MODERATOR:  Mr. President?

BUSH:  Gosh, I don‘t think I ever said I am not worried about Osama bin Laden.  That‘s kind of one of those exaggerations. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  Hi, there.  I‘m Ron Reagan. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC HOST:  And I‘m Pat Buchanan.  This is AFTER HOURS live from Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. 

We are going to break down the final face-off, which was as hot as the Arizona sun. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST:  Boy, I‘ll tell you what, it certainly was.  I‘m Joe Scarborough.  I‘m here from middle America live in the red neck riviera, in Pensacola, Florida.

Obviously the last presidential debate did me in, in Cleveland, but I am doing much better tonight.  And I will tell you, it was remarkable watching this debate from middle America. 

I had a group of people over at my house, some Republicans, some Democrats.  They were breaking it down for me.  And you know what I learned at the end, Pat Buchanan? 

I learned exactly what I knew what I was going to learn, that at the end of the night, Democrats said, boy, John Kerry knocked it out of the park; and the Republicans that were sitting there watching the debate with me said, boy, George Bush really did a great job tonight. 

I don‘t know that a lot of minds were made up tonight, Pat Buchanan and Ron Reagan, but I did think it was a great debate.  I thought it—you know, it‘s just—it‘s one of these wonderful things that happen in American politics. 

We don‘t decide elections with guns and with tanks.  We do it through debates, through these type of demonstrations of democracy.  I thought it was great. 

And we‘ve got a great panel tonight talking about it.  I can‘t wait to hear what they thought about the debate. 

Pat, why don‘t you tell our AFTER HOURS viewers who we have on the panel. 

BUCHANAN:  OK, Joe.  Good to hear from you, fellow. 

With us tonight also, Liz Marlantes from the “Christian Science Monitor”; “Newsweek‘s” magazine‘s Howard Fineman; and Republican election attorney, Ben Ginsberg. 

Thanks for being here, everyone. 

So who won the debate tonight?  Let‘s go to that neutral, objective source, Ben Ginsberg. 

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION ATTORNEY:  It‘s good to be neutral, Pat.  I thought George Bush had his best debate tonight.  I thought he really won hands down. 

I thought John Kerry reverted far more than he had in the other two debates to being a Senator, as opposed to a presidential candidate.  I thought on the personal side, his absolutely outrageous bringing up of Mary Cheney put him in a sort of personal classification that is going to have a long-term, detrimental effect to his candidacy. 

BUCHANAN:  Howard Fineman, you dissent?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, I was over in—no, not necessarily.  I was over in the media center watching the debate with my fellow reporters.  And there was audible gasp when Kerry mentioned Mary Cheney.  That‘s something that Dick Cheney can do, but probably John Kerry shouldn‘t have. 

But I do think that John Kerry, while on the defensive some of the time, scored a lot of points on issues such as the minimum wage and jobs, for which the president just didn‘t have any answer. 

Bush was better, but Kerry did a good job tonight, too and also connected somewhat toward the end on a personal level, which is important for him. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, I am inclined to agree with a lot of what you said there.  Go ahead, Liz.

LIZ MARLANTES, “CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR”:  I actually was going to say I agree with Ben in some ways. 

GINSBERG:  That‘s unusual. 

REAGAN:  Is there something in the water?

MARLANTES:  To me, this was Bush‘s best debate. 

BUCHANAN:  I agree.

MARLANTES:  I am not sure I would say he wiped the floor with Kerry.  I actually thought Kerry was, in many ways, very consistent from debate to debate to debate.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MARLANTES:  But I thought Bush put his best performance on tonight. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me say...

REAGAN:  Better, yes.

BUCHANAN:  Let me say, I think Bush did his best job tonight.  He was less aggressive than where we saw him in St. Louis.  And I thought he was outstanding, and he showed tremendous heart. 

Kerry was good.  Kerry was better than he was in St. Louis.  And I thought Kerry‘s best debate was still that Miami debate where he was very dramatic and presidential. 

REAGAN:  I don‘t think he could really beat that first debate. 

BUCHANAN:  No.

REAGAN:  There was sort of slow glide down from there...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

REAGAN:  ... a little bit for Kerry.  But I think that the polls will indicate tomorrow that this is something of a wash. 

BUCHANAN:  Yes.

REAGAN:  I suspect that the public will give a slight edge to Kerry, as they have, all along, frankly.  But you have to ask yourself the question, did we even need this debate because I think we are in the same place we were before started.

GINSBERG:  Just what the Bush negotiator said.  I‘m glad you‘ve come along, Ron.

BUCHANAN:  Not only that, I think the first debate, I still believe, if Bush had done as well in the first debate as he did in the second or the third, I think this would be just about over. 

That first debate was Kerry‘s turning point.  It brought him back in to this race.  And I think we‘ve got a horse race.

FINEMAN:  And Bush was his best.  I thought this was George Bush‘s best performance.  He was certainly his most relaxed.  He wasn‘t shouting. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.

FINEMAN:  They had given him non-shouting lessons, literally. 

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  He studied hard.  He had a lot of facts at his disposal. 

I also think some of the other answers were a little quirky, though, on importation of drugs and even on the flu vaccine. 

Now, they told us in the spin room afterwards that Bush expected that question, that, that was not a surprise.  And I think that‘s probably true because you don‘t go out and tell people not to take flu shots unless you have consulted with doctors before you do it. 

BUCHANAN:  Let the sick people have...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  They are for the sick first.

FINEMAN:  By the way, also, there were...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Yes?

BUCHANAN:  Joe?

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m sorry.  Pat Buchanan, I wanted to come in, and I wanted to touch and bring up a point.  And again, I think—don‘t get me wrong.  I think this may be a footnote.

But I can tell you, in middle America, I think there were a lot of people that were greatly offended when John Kerry brought up the issue of Vice President Cheney‘s daughter‘s sexuality.  I thought it was highly inappropriate. 

I thought it was highly inappropriate—it wasn‘t quite as inappropriate when Dick Cheney was sitting at the same table.  I thought it was way out of line.  And I can tell you, it just really, really struck me wrong.

And I would like to go around the panel and see what everybody else thinks, if everybody else was offended because I can tell you, had a Republican done that to a Democrat, I would have crawled under the table. 

And I would have blasted them afterwards saying it was shameless, it was the work of a political hack that I wouldn‘t expect a county commissioner on a local level to do. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, let me...

REAGAN:  Well...

BUCHANAN:  Go ahead.  Go ahead, Ron.

REAGAN:  Well, I was going to say, if you want to go around the panel, Joe, I‘ll start. 

I think it was a mistake for Kerry to bring up his daughter.  I think you just leave families and kids out of this.  You just don‘t do that. 

However, however offended some people may be by that, a lot of people are offended by the administration‘s position on gay marriage and how they are willing to scapegoat one of the few minorities that are left in America that you are free to dump on with some impunity, here.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Ron...

REAGAN:  So there will be offense to go around.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Ron, I mean to me that seems though, Ron—Ron Reagan, if somebody has a problem with your father‘s position while he was president of the United States, I would be very angry if they turned around and attacked you because of a decision you made whether it was drugs or ballet or whatever it was.  I think at some point...

REAGAN:  Geez, Joe.  Easy there, fellow. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m from the...

REAGAN:  John Kerry was not attacking against the Cheney‘s daughter.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, no, no.  Now make no mistake of it, John Kerry was trying to embarrass the president and was trying to embarrass the Cheney family.  Make no mistake of it.  I think it was way over the line. 

And it was as inappropriate, quite frankly, as John Edwards yesterday talking about if John Kerry is president of the United States and people like Christopher Reeve is going to be walking in the future.  I think it was very inappropriate. 

BUCHANAN:  I wanted to say, Joe.  I agree with you, I thought it was gratuitous.  And I was sitting at the end of the table, and I was jolted by it.  And I looked down, and Chris Matthews was looking at me, and he seemed to be sort of stunned by it, too. 

And for the life of me, I can‘t figure out why Kerry would do it.  It would be like when they talked about wives and things, you know, the president bringing up the fact, well, you were divorced earlier.  It would just jolt you. 

You are saying, what are you doing?  This has got to be on a higher level than that. 

MARLANTES:  Well, yes, I agree.  If anything, to me it just seemed overly political.  But at the same time, I thought it was a fascinating question because...

BUCHANAN:  Well.

REAGAN:  Yes.

MARLANTES:  ... we have had the discussion of gay marriage ad nauseum throughout this campaign.  But the way the question was put directly...

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MARLANTES:  ... I mean, they really raised the question, what do you think about homosexuality.  And that gets into entirely different territory and did expose some differences between the candidates that I thought was very interesting. 

BUCHANAN:  And it‘s a good question.  It‘s a good question, yes.

REAGAN:  It is.

GINSBERG:  It was a good question, but it‘s interesting how the Kerry folks are going to handle this.  In the previous hour, Vanessa Kerry told Chris that this was—she thought her father was being real and personal in bringing this up. 

Yet highlighting Mary Cheney at a presidential debate seems way above being real and personal.  And that goes to, really, character issues.  And if this debate was about style and character as much as substance, John Kerry is going to have some problems with this down the road. 

REAGAN:  I think President Bush‘s

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

REAGAN:  ... handling of the question goes to character issues, too.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second.  Hey, Ben...

REAGAN:  He doesn‘t...

SCARBOROUGH:  Ben, I hate to...

BUCHANAN:  Go ahead.

SCARBOROUGH:  I hate to interrupt here.  Hold it one second.  I hate to interrupt, Ben.  I actually wrote down Vanessa Kerry‘s comment. 

She said that this issue was, “a very real issue and a very personal issue.”

And I think the fact that she is saying it is a very personal issue makes it all the more repulsive, all the more offensive that her father brought this issue out and her sexuality out in front of 50 or 60 million people. 

BUCHANAN:  All right. 

REAGAN:  Howard?

BUCHANAN:  Let‘s get—Howard, let me ask you.

FINEMAN:  Yes?

BUCHANAN:  And I think we‘ve all commented on it was probably an unwise thing to do and maybe worse.  What do you think the political effect, in the room, in the newsroom?  You said people were jolted by it. 

FINEMAN:  People gasped in the newsroom when it happened.  They thought it was a—My sense is that people in the newsroom thought it was a below the belt shot. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.  What do you think is the upshot of it tomorrow?

FINEMAN:  Well, the upshot depends on what the Republicans decide to do about it, whether Mary Cheney comes forth and says she was offended by it, whether Dick Cheney says anything about it, whether they decide to play with it.

BUCHANAN:  Apparently, his wife said—Lynne Cheney made a comment on, up on the stage, did she not? 

REAGAN:  No.

BUCHANAN:  I heard that.  Didn‘t we hear that...

REAGAN:  I‘m sorry.  On the stage, yes...

BUCHANAN:  ... that Lynne Cheney had said something on the stage? 

REAGAN:  A very indignant...

BUCHANAN:  That will elevate this. 

FINEMAN:  The thing is for Kerry, I thought his most important job tonight was to connect on a personal level with people.  He‘s a good debater, clearly, showed he is presidential, has to show he is in his heart. 

When he makes a real political move like that, as Liz said, it not—doesn‘t help...

BUCHANAN:  Let me ask you something.  What I would do if I were Kerry, now, seeing just reaction here, seeing Joe‘s reaction, everyone‘s and the jolting, I would get up tomorrow and say, look, if anyone was offended by this, I apologize. 

I would get right out there, do it graciously and say it was not intended as that, just get it—get it behind him, so that, you know, nobody is going to jump on it if he does that.  And I would do it very fast. 

REAGAN:  I, you know, I...

FINEMAN:  They may even do it tonight. 

REAGAN:  Rather than trying to embarrass the Cheney‘s and the Bushes, I think the point that Kerry awkwardly is trying to make—and I agree with you, he shouldn‘t have brought her name up—was that Dick Cheney loves his daughter very much, but the Bush administration policies around homosexuals and gay marriage makes her a second class citizen.

And isn‘t that a little hypocritical?

BUCHANAN:  But look, I mean, I don‘t think it‘s hypocritical to be opposed to homosexual marriage, Ron, not at all.

REAGAN:  But you are saying to Mary Cheney, you don‘t count as much. 

BUCHANAN:  No, you don‘t.  You say, look...

REAGAN:  Yes, you are. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No, no.  No way. 

BUCHANAN:  You are asking us to redefine marriage.

REAGAN:  No, you are not. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure you are.

REAGAN:  No.  Why?

BUCHANAN:  Historically...

REAGAN:  Two people who love each other...

BUCHANAN:  ... marriage is between a man and a woman.

REAGAN:  That‘s only because straight people didn‘t let gay people get married. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Ron. 

REAGAN:  That‘s why it‘s historically the case.

SCARBOROUGH:  Ron Reagan, now let me tell you what the biggest...

REAGAN:  Historically black people used to be owned by white people. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Ron Reagan, the biggest problem—

BUCHANAN:  Thanks for straightening that out.

REAGAN:  Yes, please.

SCARBOROUGH:  The biggest problem right now, here‘s John Kerry‘s position, while everybody is cheering, let everybody that supports John Kerry cheer on what John Kerry‘s position is on gay marriage. 

In 1996, Congress passes the defensive marriage act.  What does it do?  It says, Massachusetts can marry gay people if they want to, but Ohio people and people in West Virginia don‘t have to accept those marriages. 

John Kerry votes against it.  He says that it spreads hatred. 

Well, the fact of the matter is, that‘s the same exact position that John Kerry now claims he has.  George W. Bush steps forward, and now he brings forth this gay, this marriage amendment, which I oppose personally.  I think it‘s ridiculous adding that to the constitution. 

But you have John Kerry saying also that this is something that the Bush administration is doing to sow hatred.  John Kerry, right now, is trying to have it both ways on the issue.  He had a chance to vote for states rights in 1996.  He voted against it. 

The big question tonight is, what is John Kerry‘s position on gay marriage?  He still doesn‘t know what it is. 

REAGAN:  All right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And that‘s what I‘ve got to say on it.

REAGAN:  We are going to be right back in a couple of minutes with more AFTER HOURS.  Stick around.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN:  Governor Bill Richardson, welcome.  I appreciate your being here. 

Well, did John Kerry—did John Kerry do what he needed to do tonight?  Clearly he didn‘t deliver a knockout blow to George Bush. 

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO:  I believe he scored a narrow victory.  But he did do what he needed to do, which was to show he was presidential, that he was strong, that he had specific plans on immigration—I know Pat loves that -- 

That he had specific plans on education, health care, protecting social security, increasing the minimum wage, domestic issues.  His discussion about faith, he came across as personable, discussion of his family. 

I think he just raised the comfort level of himself with the American voter and specifically those undecideds that all of us are chasing. 

What he did do, I believe, by talking about Arizona statistics, immigration, issues relating to the West is focus on four battleground states that are, I think, are going to be decisive, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.  So it was a narrow victory. 

The president did do well.  He was strong. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me ask you, the president, I think, used the term amnesty twice, and attributed to John Kerry—and of course the president himself has been under attack for offering limited amnesty. 

Did Kerry make a mistake in not saying, look, what we are not offering is amnesty, because my understanding is the word amnesty is really a provoking term to an awful lot of swing voters out here?

RICHARDSON:  Well, I think what Senator Kerry did was he talked about how he wanted to enhance border security, that he wanted to be sure that the border was not porous, especially from Middle East individuals.  And then he said, earn legalization. 

I think the president has moved forward on immigration by proposing a plan, after five years, you get some kind of status, but I do think Kerry scored the most points by saying you have to earn a legalization, not an amnesty. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Let me ask you.  We have been talking about the bringing up of Dick Cheney‘s daughter‘s name.  And I think everybody here agrees that it was a mistake and may have been even a little bit worse. 

What would you tell John Kerry to do about this issue?  He brought up the lesbianism, et cetera.  What would you tell him to do right now tonight since everybody is talking about it?

RICHARDSON:  Well, I would say that I think it‘s important that he say that this is a states rights issue—I didn‘t hear him say that—that legislatures should settle this issue.  Governors should settle this issue, not the Congress. 

I think he was simply stating something that is very known, that Vice President Cheney has a daughter who feels a certain way.  I don‘t think he was trying to be disrespectful.  I don‘t think it was a mistake. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey...

RICHARDSON:  A lot of personal references came up, which I think showed the humanity and the character of both candidates. 

REAGAN:  We have Joe wanting to come in.

BUCHANAN:  Joe‘s got a question for you, I think.

SCARBOROUGH:  Bill Richardson, Joe Scarborough, good to see you again, buddy. 

RICHARDSON:  Hi, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  I haven‘t seen you since we were playing basketball in the gym in Congress. 

RICHARDSON:  Yes, you were a lot better than I was.

SCARBOROUGH:  It was pretty ugly...

REAGAN:  Not any more.

SCARBOROUGH:  No, not really.  Not with my back now.  Not with my back.

I want to read you a quote.  We just got this quote in from Lynne Cheney.  This is what she said tonight, and then we‘ll move on.  I don‘t want to be talking about this gay issue all night. 

We‘ve got a lot of other issues, but I know our viewers and our panel is going to want to hear this. 

Lynne Cheney had this to say afterwards, quote, speaking of John Kerry, “This is not a good man.  This is not a good man.  This is an indignant mother who thought it was a cheap and tawdry political attack.”

Obviously going to be harsh words tomorrow.  But let‘s move on from that issue, and I want to talk about New Mexico because governor, New Mexico is one of those states that‘s going to determine who is going to be the next president of the United States. 

Tell me, was there anything that you saw tonight that you thought may have moved New Mexico voters one way or the other on November 2?

RICHARDSON:  Well, New Mexico is right now a dead heat.  The president has a base there, being governor of Texas as a neighbor state.  He has been relatively effective with Hispanic voters. 

But at the same time, I think Senator Kerry scored some points by focusing on increasing the minimum wage, job creation, education, specific plans for the middle class. 

New Mexico is a middle class slash poor state, and I believe that Senator Kerry connected.  He has been in New Mexico the last three days preparing for this debate.  I think that was very important.

And in a battleground state, five electoral votes with 42 percent Hispanics, and we have registered close to 30,000 new Hispanic and native-American voters, I think we will win it narrowly.  But it‘s still going to be very, very close in my state.

I am dedicating a lot of time to the Kerry effort, and hopefully that will be decisive because governors have the better organization. 

REAGAN:  Governor, if it‘s as close as it was last time...

SCARBOROUGH:  You know—you know, governor...

REAGAN:  ... do you expect litigation to take place?

RICHARDSON:  Do I expect what?

REAGAN:  You‘re sitting next to Ben Ginsberg.

RICHARDSON:  Ben and I have known each other in these 527 wars; and I respect his position, but I think mine is right, too. 

REAGAN:  Really, seriously, do you think it‘s, if it is very close—what was it 300 votes or something?

RICHARDSON:  Oh, yes.  It was 307...

REAGAN:  Do you think it‘s going to end up in a courts?

RICHARDSON:  Oh, absolutely.  It will be very close.  And it‘s all going to be up to what‘s happening in the country the next three weeks.  You know, you guys...

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, let me...

RICHARDSON:  ... the pundits, the pollsters go back, and now it‘s up to mobilization, get out the vote, grass roots, get your bases out.  That‘s what it‘s going to be. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Bill, the—I saw the “USA Today,” it said that there are 10 battleground states that they are focusing on, now.  Four red states are up for grabs right now.  Nevada and New Mexico were in there and, of course, Ohio and Florida. 

But there were six blue states, you know Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and, as I say, New Mexico is in there, too.  What—is that your take as well, Pennsylvania and Michigan were in there? 

Is that your take, as well, because that would suggest a little bit of an uphill battle for Kerry because he has got to hold those six and pick up one. 

RICHARDSON:  Well, I do think that, that is accurate, the scope that you gave.  But what I believe is the real change for Kerry, positive, is here in the West. 

BUCHANAN:  Yes.

RICHARDSON:  I think Arizona is very doable. 

BUCHANAN:  You think Arizona is up?

RICHARDSON:  I believe that Nevada is doable.  Colorado is a dead heat. 

BUCHANAN:  I‘m sorry.

RICHARDSON:  Now, this didn‘t happen before.  And I think there are a lot of factors favoring Kerry, the migration of new people into the West, emphasizing immigration, education issues, quality of life.  The West is changing. 

Young people, I mean, the enthusiasm of young people everywhere, I think is something that favors Senator Kerry.  And I do think that the four Western states are going to be just as important as the battlegrounds in the Midwest. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, everybody tends to agree that the three...

SCARBOROUGH:  Howard...

BUCHANAN:  Go ahead, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I am sorry.  I was just going to do a follow-up.  Howard Fineman, you know...

FINEMAN:  Yes?

SCARBOROUGH:  ... we are talking right now about Arizona.  We are talking about New Mexico.  I want to talk to you about the Hispanic vote.  It‘s going to be extraordinarily important in those states. 

You, more than any journalist in America, you have studied George Bush‘s history.  You know he won as governor in ‘94.  And you know in 1998, he accumulated an incredible Hispanic vote for a white Republican. 

Are you seeing those same trends as he runs for re-election in 2004 as president of the United States, or are things a lot more difficult for him in his re-election run for president than they were as his re-election run for Texas governor?

FINEMAN:  Joe, I think they are more difficult this time around.  As governor of Texas, he did cut deals with Democrats.  He did have a reputation of being a middle of the road governor for the most part on a lot of economic issues.  This is a different situation. 

I think Governor Richardson is right.  I think when Kerry talks about minimum wage, when he talks about jobs, when he talks about expanding health care, he is talking right to those new Latino voters all over the country.  And that is what Kerry is aiming for. 

George Bush‘s focus on the cultural issues, I am not sure is going to be enough to draw those Latinos into the Republican Party.  And the strategists for Bush have cared about this from day one, from the day after the 2000 election, disputed election, they have been obsessed with expanding their percentage of the Hispanic vote. 

I don‘t know that they are going to be able to do it because the economy in many places has been a little soft to bring those people over, and that‘s what Kerry was focusing on tonight. 

REAGAN:  We‘ve got to take a break now.  Governor Bill Richardson, thank you very much for joining us.  We really appreciate it. 

BUCHANAN:  Thanks, Bill.  Good to see you.

REAGAN:  And everyone else, stick around.  We‘ve got much more ahead.  And we want to hear from you.  Vote for who you thought won tonight‘s debate in our very unscientific, online poll.  Just log on to JOE.MSNBC.com.  We‘ll update you on the results later on the show...

(CHEERING)

REAGAN:  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RON REAGAN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  This is AFTER HOURS at the final presidential debate of the year.  We‘ll be right back after meeting Kathy Griffin, but first let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC news desk.

(NEWSBREAK)

REAGAN:  Welcome back.  We‘re now joined by comedian and actress Kathy Griffin and the “Boston Herald‘s” Mike Barnicle.  They‘re in for Ben Ginsberg. 

We needed the sharp stuff (ph) to steel (ph) moving to the left.  So we brought you in.

Kathy, from a comedian and actresses point of view, how did you see the debate?

KATHY GRIFFIN:  I don‘t think there are enough panelists on the left, first of all.  All right?  Now let‘s cut to the chase about Kerry‘s comment about Cheney‘s gay daughter.

REAGAN:  OK.  Why is Lynne Cheney so ashamed of her gay daughter—and shame on the conservatives and shame on Scarborough for trying to spin this against the Democrats because she is a gay woman and there‘s nothing wrong with that.

Being a gay person, being a lesbian, is not a pejorative and there was nothing wrong with Kerry saying that.  Maybe Lynne Cheney is a bad parent.

REAGAN:  Mike, do you have any thoughts—and we won‘t spend the entire evening on it.

MIKE BARNICLE, THE BOSTON HERALD:  The immortal Senator Kerry‘s position? 

GRIFFIN:  I don‘t care; it‘s my position.

BUCHANAN:  Can‘t we all just get along? 

GRIFFIN:  I‘m sick of this conservative crap.  I mean, can everybody not say what we‘re thinking?  I‘m sick of the spin with Joe Scarborough from his den with his party of some Democrats and some conservatives. 

Of course Joe Scarborough is having a big party with a bunch of conservatives, and of course they want to jump on something like Senator Kerry mentioning Lynne Cheney‘s gay daughter. 

What‘s wrong with having a gay daughter?  We live in America.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, give me a break here.  Why don‘t we go to Joe Scarborough‘s then?  You and I both know—hold on one second.  Let me say what I‘m going to say.  You‘ve attacked me.  Let me say what I‘m going to say...

GRIFFIN:  All right then.  You have to make—you have a tendency to talk over the—so I‘m going to talk over you.

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m going to talk, so you just keep talking if that makes you feel better.

GRIFFIN:  No, I‘m excited about the Super Bowl party. 

SCARBOROUGH:  If a Republican—well, if she‘ll let me talk, I‘ll talk. 

If a Republican candidate had said to a Democrat you‘ve been—brought up basically that a Democrat had a gay daughter, then all we would hear was that the Republicans...

GRIFFIN:  OK, you‘ve got to be kidding me.  And the Republicans were saying that John Kerry might have shot himself in the leg?  Don‘t talk to me about smear campaigns, because the Republicans...

SCARBOROUGH:  Give me a break.  No, no, let‘s talk about hypocrisy right now.  The hypocrisy is the fact is this.  That if you actually had a Republican candidate bring up the fact that a Democratic candidate had a gay or lesbian son or daughter, the next day in the paper, “The New York Times” would be talking about the hate-filled right-wing...

GRIFFIN:  John Kerry is trying to make the point that everybody knows gay people, and gay people are out there and there‘s nothing wrong with being gay.

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, whatever.  No, no way.  A Republican couldn‘t have.  It‘s not the number one issue on the table, and you know what?  If you‘re had been listening to me before, you would have actually heard me say that I‘m against the gay amendment.

GRIFFIN:  If Ron says stop, then I stop.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know it, before you attack me listen to what I say—I‘m against the gay amendment.

GRIFFIN:  I listened.

SCARBOROUGH:  So take a listen before you start talking.

GRIFFIN:  But you start—all right, you listen to me, sweetheart, because you certainly were quick to attack John Kerry for his comment.  And that‘s what I heard and I...

SCARBOROUGH:  No, I—I‘m attacking him because of his personal comment, and if a Republican had made that comment against a Democrat you would have been called hateful and mean spirited and they would have said it‘s a right-wing religious zealot attacking...

(CROSSTALK)

You know it‘s the case and I know it‘s the case.

GRIFFIN:  What about the Purple Heart Band-Aids at the Republican Convention?  Were you real proud of that?

REAGAN:  All right, OK.

SCARBOROUGH:  Did that have anything to do with the gay daughter?  I mean, come on.

REAGAN:  Breathe, breathe, Joe.  Breathe, breathe.  We‘ll be back when Joe stops being attacked.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  How did the Red Sox do?

BARNICLE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of our times and if the truth be told, most people in New England would prefer the Red Sox win the World Series before John Kennedy won—before John Kerry won the White House.  Sox lost three to one.  All right?

GRIFFIN:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to vote.

REAGAN:  All right, let‘s have another topic that dominated the debate, if we may.  Iraq. 

John Kerry returned to attacking the president for rushing to war in Iraq while ignoring security issues here at home.  Here‘s some tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I believe that this president, regrettably rushed us into a war, made decisions about foreign policy, pushed alliances away, and as a result America is now bearing this extraordinary burden where we are not as safe as we ought to be.

The measurement is not are we safer?  The measurement is are we as safe as we ought to be?  And there are a host of options that this president had available to him so we can do a better job of homeland security. 

I can do a better job of waging the smarter, more effective war on terror and guarantee that we go after the terrorists.  I will hunt them down and we‘ll kill them, we‘ll capture them, we‘ll do what‘s ever necessary to be safe but I pledge this to you, America:  I will do it in the way that Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy and others did. 

Where we build the strongest alliances, where the world joins together, where we have the best intelligence and where we are able, ultimately to be more safe and secure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  Mike Barnicle, were you surprised in a domestic issue that the subject of Iraq came up almost immediately and the first question ended up being about Iraq?

BARNICLE:  Well, I think it would have to come up almost immediately given the fact that we live in a country where despite the severity of some domestic issues, health care, unemployment in parts of this country—Iraq is the umbrella over this whole campaign.

Terror is the issue that is moving this election, I happen to believe, more than any other issue.  The amazing thing about John Kerry—and it‘s not amazing, actually.  But this is the third and final debate.  I don‘t know how many of you agree with me, but he has achieved, I would think what any candidate running against an incumbent president would want to achieve.

He appears to be his physical equal on the stage.  He appears to be presidential alongside the president which...

BUCHANAN:  Let me follow up on that.  I think that‘s exactly right.  What happened after the Democratic Convention was the Swift Boat attacks and then the convention, which I thought virtually destroyed Kerry as an alternative.

He had 36 percent positive, 42 percent negative.  And then that first debate I‘m convinced he was presidential, he was as crisp and sharp as I‘ve seen him but he made positive points—he also went after the president.  I think that debate alone moved him back up into if you will—he is in contention and they‘re on very much...

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  I‘ll tell you the moment where Kerry in the sort of psychology of this exerted mastery over the president tonight.  Toward the end when he said I want to compliment the president for his handling of the situation right after 9/11.

BARNICLE:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  That was like saying I‘m going to pat you on the head here now because I‘ve won this series of debates. 

And the president gave him a wink and said thanks, but really that was a moment of psychologically—in a contest between two men like that it was a moment of mastery for Kerry.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Howard Fineman, in what I think is—you know, Howard, though, I think when we look back at these debates and of course historians and pundits always try to find the defining moment, I don‘t think the defining moment for this campaign is going to be the first or second or the third debate, I think it‘s going to be the first debate.  If John Kerry ends up winning, it‘s going to be the Miami debate.

You had Pat talking about how John Kerry looked more presidential.  The contrast in the split screens in that first debate where you had John Kerry.

I mean if you had turned the sound down and you saw John Kerry standing up straight delivering his lines taking notes and the other side you had George Bush kind of leaning over grimacing, which is very funny—he was joking about Laura Bush tonight—I actually was told by somebody in the White House that it was Laura Bush that went to him and basically stuck her finger in his face and said don‘t ever do that again.

I actually think that may have been the defining moment of this campaign if John Kerry wins because that was when John Kerry did look—looked presidential.  Standing next to the president of the United States.

FINEMAN:  Can I just add I think George Bush got better with each debate?  I think George Bush was the best tonight that he‘s been in all three.  He‘s learned from Kerry.  Kerry is an experienced debater.  George Bush learned unfortunately, perhaps—he learned the skills for this particular part of the campaign a little late in the game. 

Is it decisive in the race?  Not necessarily.

LIZ MARLANTES, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:  I was going to say the other thing we saw with Bush was he was different in all three debates.  The first debate he was too cold, the second debate he was too hot, this debate he was sort of the Goldilocks middle ground or something.

REAGAN:  Exactly.

MARLANTES:  Exactly.  Exactly.  And what Kerry did that was quite effective, I think, is that he was constant.  He was a steady, consistent presence in all three debates and I think for voters out there who were trying to get a sense of him, they came away from all three with a pretty clear sense.  I mean he was constantly and in some ways a little boring.

Or you know he—the applause was there too but he was (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

REAGAN:  Too, I think, is not only did he look presidential as Mike has pointed out, but he also exploded the caricature of him—of the Bush campaign, this weak, vacillating doesn‘t-know-who-he-is-kind of guy.  Well that wasn‘t the guy that we saw standing there.

FINEMAN:  You know what—he didn‘t answer some questions Kerry did.  For example on the question of his senate record.  There‘s not much he can say but the point is that...

GRIFFIN:  Why is it so horrible to say you‘re a liberal now?

FINEMAN:  No, no—but the fact is everybody knows that senators don‘t do anything.  In other words, George Bush won that argument...

REAGAN:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  Yes, senators—you have no record but I think in—it‘s not that big of a point.  Nobody expects a senator to lead the nation.  You know, I didn‘t think...

SCARBOROUGH:  And Howard Fineman, what I‘ve always found out was this...

GRIFFIN:  I can‘t hear you.

SCARBOROUGH:  I was just going to say... Howard Fineman, I‘m sorry—Howard Fineman, what I have always found in politics is voters do not care about what you‘ve done over the past four, eight years.  Voters care about what you‘re going to do over the next four years, whether it has to do with jobs, whether it has to do with the draft, whether it has to do with Iraq, the war on terror.

Talking about what he did in 1985, 1990 -- that just doesn‘t matter when voters go to the polls.  It doesn‘t on a congressional level, his senatorial record or even on a national level.

GRIFFIN:  I think voters certainly do care about what Bush has and hasn‘t done in the last four years.  I mean Kerry‘s best argument is Bush‘s poor record.  I love that Kerry—women‘s issues.  Vote women, get out there and vote.

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Let us know what you thought about tonight‘s debate.  Seventy-two percent of you thought John Kerry, 26 percent of you said the president.  As we said, it is unscientific. 

You too can vote.  Go to joe.msnbc.com.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB SCHIEFFER, MODERATOR:  You were asked before the invasion or after the invasion of Iraq if you had checked with your Dad, and I believe—I don‘t remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority.

I would like to ask you what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  First, my faith plays a lot—a big part in my life and that‘s when I was answering that question what I was really saying to the person was that I pray a lot.  And I do. 

I believe that God wants everybody to be free.  That‘s what I believe.  And that‘s—part of my foreign policy.  In Afghanistan I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty.  And I can‘t tell you how encouraged I am to see freedom on the march and so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me and religion is a part of me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  All right, everybody settle down.  What did you, how did you think that played out?  Most people give Bush the advantage on the religion question.  I thought Kerry handled his half of his pretty well.  We didn‘t see it there.

BARNICLE:  I think they both did.  I think Bush appeared in his answer I think closer to who he actually is than maybe in all of the other canned answers and responses. 

A bit hesitant, a bit awkward, a bit shy about his faith but you know willing to proceed and give you an answer as to how deeply he felt and how much he prayed and how clearly Democrats would say he ought to pray.

But I think they were both effective.  I think it says something about who we are culturally in this the 21st century that politicians seem to be either reluctant to talk about their faith or talk about it in ways that are offensive to the voting public.

BUCHANAN:  I thought there was authenticity there too.  The very fact that he was hesitant and he was thinking it through as he answered it—it wasn‘t some canned response.  How do you think—I guess we‘ve got now coming up Senator Kerry discussed his own faith as well.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  I measure the words of the Bible and we all do.  Different people measure different things.  The Qur‘an, the Torah, or you know, Native Americans who gave me a blessing the other day had their own special sense of connectedness to a higher being.

And people all find their ways to express it.  I was taught—I went to a church school and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are love the Lord your God with all your mind, your body, and your soul and love your neighbor as your self.

And, frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCHANAN:  OK, Mike Barnicle, you and I were raised about the same time, the same way, 1950s Catholics.  In truth I mean Kerry speaks very eloquently here but does he not sound a little more like an Episcopalian in a sense...

BARNICLE:  Oh, absolutely.

BUCHANAN:  Whereas Bush sounds like—you know—born again.

BARNICLE:  Yes, John Kerry speaks in complete sentences.  Nouns, verbs, objects.

REAGAN:  I‘m sorry.  I have to go to a break.  It‘s a hard thing to do.

BARNICLE:  I have faith in that.

REAGAN:  Have faith.  We will be back in just a second with Mike‘s answer.  Swear.  Swear to God.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  Welcome back.  Welcome back.  We want to get back to Mike Barnicle‘s answer on what did you think of Episcopalian priest statement that he was an altar boy.

BARNICLE:  John Kerry.  Yes.  Well, I mean, John Kerry speaks in complete sentences, noun, verb, object, so there‘s a little parochial school training there...

BUCHANAN:  Yes.

BARNICLE:  But obviously the Catholicism that was imbued in him as a child was not the same kind of Catholicism that was imbued in us because the first thing he would have mentioned was the absolute fear of sex that was ground into you as a young Irish Catholic boy...

BUCHANAN:  Number six.

BARNICLE:  Yes, yes.  But they both did well on that question.

BUCHANAN:  Liz Marlantes, Howard Fineman and of course...

REAGAN:  Mike Barnicle.

BUCHANAN:  Mike Barnicle thank you all for joining us tonight.  Don‘t go away because we‘ve got another whole hour of AFTER HOURS debate coming up.

REAGAN:  Plus, we‘ll talk to music legends Daryl Hall and John Oates so don‘t go away.  AFTER HOURS will return in just a minute from Arizona State University.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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