Exchange With Reporters Aboard Air Force One
The President. How is everybody? Ballsky [Dan Balz, Washington Post].
Q. Mr. President, how are you?
The President. Were you anticipating my arrival? [Laughter] Listen, 19 days to go, and I'm looking forward to it. I enjoyed myself last night. The debate phase of the campaign is over, and now it's a sprint to the finish. And the good news is I'm not going to be sprinting alone. I'll have a lot of support from people like Senator McCain and Governor Lingle. We'll be seeing Governors today in Las Vegas, and they're going to spread out all across the country, and I'm excited about it. It's— my spirits are high. I'm enthusiastic about my chances.
I'll answer a couple of questions, and then we'll let you have your coffee.
Presidential Debate in Tempe
Q. Some of the early polls say Kerry won last night. What do you have to say?
The President. Well, the voters will decide. They'll decide on November the 2d who they want to be the President.
Q. Has Kerry helped himself with these debates, if you have an opinion?
The President. The voters will decide that. You know, that's—the great thing about a campaign, all the speculation ends on election day.
Senator John McCain. Can I just say, on substance, there is no doubt. When you talk about Social Security, they all want to reform it. You don't know how to pay for it. You can't answer the question, and people notice that. On substance, the President won, and that's what the people think about when they go into the ballot booth.
Can I also say at that event afterwards, 40,000 citizens of Arizona showed up at Bank One Ballpark. There has never been an event like that in the history of our State, not only the numbers but the enthusiasm.
Q. Mr. President, what do you think your best moment was last night?
The President. Telling people what I think. You know, the pundits and the spinners and the—they'll all have their opinion, but there's only one opinion that matters, and that's the opinion of the American people on November the 2d. I feel great about where we are. There's lot of enthusiasm for my candidacy. People have seen me lead, and they also know that I've got plans for the next 4 years. And as you'll hear me today, I'm optimistic about the future of this country.
Governor Linda Lingle. I thought that a great moment was the question about jobs. It's more than statistics. I think the President made a key point when he said the important point is that a solid education for the children in America is the best way to ensure a sound economy over the long term. It's common sense. It's why No Child Left Behind is not just important for education, it's important for the sustained economic progress of this Nation.
And personally, the part I liked is when the President talked about his feelings for Mrs. Bush and his daughters. I thought that was just so touching. I think people across America felt how close they were as a family, and I thought it was a really important part of the debate as well.
The President. All right, I'm going to let you all go back to your breakfast.
Senator McCain. Can I just mention one thing? Again, on Social Security, the President has pledged to reform Social Security and bring America together on that issue. You can't just say that the status quo will prevail on Social Security. Millions and millions of baby boomers are going to be facing retirement. This is an issue that has got to be the highest priority. The President has pledged to address it and not be satisfied with the status quo.
Q. Mr. President, one question that you were asked last night about the cost, the transition cost of——
The President. Well, that's part of bringing people together, to figure out how to address the costs. The point is, is that I'm the President who understands Social Security needs to be reformed.
Listen, thank you. Good to see you, Dan. Get a smile on your faces, everybody, 18 days left.
Q. Will you come visit us again?
Senator McCain. Every day. [Laughter]
The President. I'm a better person for it, of course. [Laughter]
NOTE: The exchange began at 9:07 a.m. while en route to Las Vegas, NV. Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii participated in the exchange. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this exchange.
George W. Bush, Exchange With Reporters Aboard Air Force One Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/214878