Bush and Kerry likely to hurl statistics during debate on economy, domestic issues

Wednesday, October 13th 2004, 2:01 pm
By: News On 6

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are likely to reach into their arsenals of statistics to bolster arguments about economic and domestic issues during the final presidential debate Wednesday night.

How many jobs have been lost and created, who is covered and who is left uninsured by medical plans, and who will pay more in taxes and who will pay less are key areas of contention between the two campaigns. With viewers expected to number in the tens of millions, the confrontation will draw the last huge audience they can expect before Election Day.

``These are the debates where actually the evidence matters. The president and his team can go around and say anything,'' Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart told ``The Early Show'' on CBS. ``Evidence matters. That's why John Kerry wins these debates and George Bush loses them.''

The president is widely viewed as having performed poorly in the first debate and doing far better in the second, though a recent poll showed voters giving Kerry the edge in both. Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said the president views the third and final debate at Arizona State University as an opportunity and looks forward to it.

``The president knows who he is, knows what he wants to do,'' Mehlman told CBS, ``and there's a huge difference between the president and Sen. Kerry on these important domestic issues.''

As the candidates prepared to discuss health care, the Kerry campaign released a 30-second ad that accuses Bush of misleading voters about the Democratic health-care plan and criticizes the president for rising costs.

The National Rifle Association endorsed Bush on Wednesday, opening a last-minute campaign that will eventually spend about $20 million on behalf of the president's re-election, most of it in 10 to 15 states. The NRA contends Kerry wants to ``ban guns in America,'' an assertion Kerry flatly denies.

Although the 90-minute debate is limited to economic and domestic policy, there may be questions that allow Bush to discuss foreign policy, the war in Iraq and the war against terrorism _ all issues the Bush campaign thinks bodes well for him.

Kerry has criticized Bush's domestic record for most of the campaign but still spent two days secluded in a New Mexico hotel trying to master the debate material.

For Bush, the debate is a chance to revive in public opinion polls as the clock ticks down to Nov. 2. His job-approval rating slumped to 47 percent in a USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll published Tuesday, just one percentage point above the lowest point in his presidency, reached in May.

As in the first debate, the candidates will take questions standing at lecterns. Bob Schieffer of CBS News will moderate.

At a rally Tuesday in Colorado Springs, Colo., Bush mocked Kerry's credibility and said the debates so far ``have highlighted the clear differences between the senator and me on issues ranging from jobs to taxes to health care to the war on terror.''

Bush said Kerry would have to raise taxes to pay for all of his proposals. Kerry says he would pay for them by repealing Bush's ``unaffordable'' tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 and scaling back other government spending. He promised during the second debate that he would not raise taxes for those who make less.

``The problem is, to keep that promise, he would have to break almost all of his other ones,'' Bush said. ``To pay for all the big spending programs he's outlined during his campaign, he will have to raise your taxes. He can run from his record, but he cannot hide.''