Campaign Roadblog, 2/22/04

Campaign 2004 Bus Election
With the primary season in full swing, CBS News reporters are out on the road covering the candidates' every move. In our daily Roadblog, they share their campaign trail observations, impressions and anecdotes.


Sun. Feb. 22: On a weekend when millions of "Sex and the City" fans were gearing up for Sunday's final episode, Senator Edwards was jetting across the country trying to drum up support for his campaign. While he didn't talk about the trendy Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks, he did offer voters what is being billed as a new and different vision for America.

"I want to change America in a way that no one has ever seen," Edwards said to a crowd of over 1000 voters in Columbus, Ohio. Just as the story that unfolded in "Sex and the City" transformed the lives of four New York women, Edwards says he hopes to transform the lives of millions of American who he believes have suffered under the Bush administration.

With the focus on the March 2nd Super Tuesday states, specifically targeting New York, Minnesota and Ohio this weekend, Edwards hurried from one event to another, addressing hundreds of supporters at every place he visited.

While his stump has stayed more or less the same since Iowa and New Hampshire, this weekend he tailored it a little bit to emphasize more of his "outsider" mentality. "The American people are hungry for real change," said Edwards. "They want a president who actually understands them - someone who will wake up every day and think about them." Edwards repeatedly tells crowds that he will be that kind of president.

In addition to his face-to-face connection with the voters, Edwards is yearning to debate his main rival, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. The two are both scheduled to appear in L.A. for the Los Angeles Times/CNN debate on February 26, and over the weekend all four remaining candidates agreed to appear in a debate moderated by CBS News Anchor Dan Rather. On the stump, Edwards says "it would be a real loss if the people of Ohio (or the people of Georgia or the people of Minnesota, etc.) did not get a chance to see a debate between John Edwards and John Kerry.

The Kerry campaign has said that they don't know what Edwards will say that he has not said before, but Edwards is determined to have several one-on-one debates with Kerry. So far he'll have two opportunities to debate Kerry, but with the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich in the picture, he still does not have the one-on-one match-up he's been asking for.

Another addition to the stump is Edwards' admiration for former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. With Dean out of the presidential race and both Edwards and Kerry courting Dean's former supporters, Edwards has been mentioning Dean at all of his rallies. "I have great affection and respect for a powerful voice in bringing new people into this process - my friend Governor Howard Dean."

Saturday, at a rally in St. Paul, Minnesota, there were well over a thousand people gathered to see Edwards, and many were former Dean supporters. While Dean has not formally endorsed either Kerry or Edwards, he has said that he thinks Edwards would be a better candidate to beat Bush. From the size and enthusiasm of the crowd Saturday, it seemed like his supporters think the very same thing. One voter told me that she was a Dean supporter, and now she'll vote for "anyone but Kerry." It's these people that Edwards needs to win over in order to have any chance against Kerry.

Sunday, on NBC's Meet the Press, Ralph Nader announced that he was entering the race. Because many people say that he stole crucial votes that cost Al Gore the election in 2000, the Democrats are presumably furious that he is entering the foray. But Mr. Positive (yes, that would be Senator Edwards) refrained from criticizing Nader. Instead, in a statement, the campaign said that "Edwards can attract voters from across the political spectrum (progressives, moderates, dissatisfied Republicans) and that's why he is the best candidate to take on Bush in the fall."

Up until Edwards surprising second place finish in Wisconsin, it seemed like everyone was talking about a Kerry/Edwards ticket. Now that the two are head to head, you don't seem to hear that any more.

It may be because people think that now there will be too much animosity between the two Johns, or maybe Edwards has proved that he is a viable presidential contender. Either way, we know that we are going to have a John as the democratic presidential nominee, but it seems improbable (at least for now) that we're going have a John/John ticket.

While Edwards had no plans to hobnob with Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis or Kim Catrall Sunday night his campaign did at least sleep in the city where Sex and the City began - and ends. The campaign hopes that Candace Bushnell (author of the book that inspired the TV series) is writing Edwards' introduction, and not his epilogue.
--Alison Schwartz


Sun. Feb. 22: Friday brought Secret Service protection for Kerry as they showed up outside his Boston manse precisely one minute after midnight on Friday.

The street in front of his Louisburg Square townhouse was as still as any other on Beacon Hill just prior to midnight. Then at 12:01 am, three Secret Service vehicles and around 15 agents began protecting the man they've code-named - according to Kerry aides - Minuteman. (The Minutemen were the Massachusetts colonial soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War against the British at Lexington and Concord.)

Saturday, just before Kerry arrived in Georgia to campaign, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., criticized Kerry's voting record on defense saying he has a "32-year history of voting to cut defense programs and cut defense systems."

Upon landing in Atlanta, Kerry struck back, in his harshest tone to date, at Chambliss and Republicans in general and vowed to stand up to their comments. "I am not going to stand by and allow these Republicans to continually go to the low road to challenge my commitment to the defense of our nation," Kerry said. "I don't know what it is about those Republicans who didn't serve in any way have against us who are Democrats who did."

Kerry was accompanied by former Sen. Max Cleland, who was defeated by Chambliss in 2002 due in part, some say, to ads Chambliss ran questioning Cleland's patriotism. "I ask the people of Georgia... what more Max Cleland has to leave on a battlefield to prove his commitment to the defense of our nation," said Kerry about Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam.

Saturday, aides were extremely eager to make sure reporters knew about a letter Kerry sent to President Bush challenging him to a "debate on the Vietnam era and the impact of their experiences on their approaches to presidential leadership," according to a campaign statement.

The letter, another example of Kerry's direct confrontation of Bush as he continues to not utter the names of the other Democratic contenders, begins: "Over the last week, you and your campaign have initiated a widespread attack on my service in Vietnam, my decision to speak out to end that war, and my commitment to the defense of this nation."

Bush re-election chairman Marc Racicot responded in a letter Sunday saying "Our campaign is not questioning your patriotism or military service, but your votes and statements on the issues now facing our country." Racicot added that President Bush looks forward to debating "you or... any Democrat that emerges as your Party's nominee."

Racicot also charged Kerry with running a negative campaign writing, "I also ask you to elevate the remarkably negative tone of your campaign and your party over the past year."

Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill fired back in a letter of her own. "Let's hope President Bush will stop hiding behind his attack dogs, his $100 million campaign war chest and his campaign chairman and debate," Cahill wrote.

Sunday, Kerry began the day at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where he joined in the singing and also spent some time with Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, Coretta Scott King.

After church, the senator answered a question about Ralph Nader's newly announced independent candidacy. "I'm going to appeal to everyone in this race," Kerry responded when asked if he was "disappointed" about Nader's announcement. He added he'll "make it unnecessary in the end for an alternative."

In the afternoon, Kerry held a town hall meeting at the Roxy in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. With a capacity crowd of over 750 inside, the campaign had the audio pumped out to the street where there were another couple of hundred on the sidewalk listening to his remarks. Among the folks introducing Kerry was the widow of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, Valerie.

Attempting to connect to African-American voters, Kerry tailored an intro to his stump speech by referencing Martin Luther King's "journey" as not just a "journey for Blacks, for African-Americans... but... a journey for all Americans." Later in his remarks, Kerry called the education system in America "separate and unequal," something he's done before in front of African-American audiences. He wound up spending over 50 minutes taking questions from the audience, reverting back to the lengthy Q&A sessions he held right before the Iowa caucuses.

Kerry's day off on Friday seemed to be to his benefit as he appeared rejuvenated beginning with his press conference Saturday night and lasting through his Sunday town hall meeting. A rested Kerry is much less wordy and definitely quicker with the one-liners. After an eighth-grader asked him a detailed question about foreign policy, Kerry quipped, "(He's) eighth grade going on PhD!" When one woman described herself as a "recovering Republican" before asking her question, Kerry joked, "I have a single-step program for you. It's called 'Vote for Kerry.'"

At the end of the event, Kerry, in a moment of introspection, made one last pitch to the audience. "I have never seen so many issues of legitimacy that are at stake," he began. "I don't have all the answers to every one of them," he admitted, adding, "I'll tell you though, I know how to listen... I know how to look for the common ground."

Monday, Kerry spends the day in the Big Apple with a morning rally in Harlem and a town hall meeting in Queens before having a series of closed-door fund-raisers.

Endorsement watch: Since Thursday, Kerry has received the support of Reps. John Lewis and Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., and Reps. Joe Crowley and Steve Israel, D-N.Y. - all representing states that hold March 2 contests.
--Steve Chaggaris


Thurs. Feb. 19: The day after he declared he would no longer seek the Presidency, Howard Dean spent time at his campaign headquarters with staff and volunteers. He signed autographs on hats, photos, and even laptops. He doled out career advice to staffers who were leaving. He offered contact names in different parts of the country.

Dressed in blue jeans and a faded green shirt, Dean seemed relaxed - and grateful to the staff who worked so hard for him.

Staff like Courtney O'Donnell: in her late 20s, O'Donnell first drove up to Burlington, Vt., in December of 2002. Last November, when Howard Dean seemed likely to be the nominee, O'Donnell spoke about when she first found the Dean headquarters. "They said, 'great, how long are you here?'" about her offer to work for the campaign. "And I said, 'well, 'til the end.'"

It turns out, O'Donnell will stay past the end. She began as a campaign volunteer - working for free for six weeks before becoming a paid member of the staff and Deputy Communications Director. With Friday being her last day on the payroll, O'Donnell will once again become an unpaid volunteer for Howard Dean - helping in the office for another six weeks (her lease in Burlington goes until April 1st).

"The middle," O'Donnell says of the bookends that will be two separate volunteer stints, "was the greatest experience of my life."

While many were writing Dean out of the race after his loss in New Hampshire, O'Donnell remained optimistic until the Wisconsin primary. Once the returns began to come in on Tuesday, she knew the end had come. "I've been crying a lot," she said. "It's sad to me that Governor Dean won't be the next President."

Tuesday night O'Donnell and many of her colleagues in Burlington headed to the Vermont Pub and Brewery. It was the scene of many a late night for the Dean staff early in the campaign because the original headquarters was located just upstairs. "It's sort of my first connection with Burlington was through that pub," O'Donnell said chuckling.

Even after a night of preparation, Wednesday was not an easy day. "I think the moment in the speech where he said, you know, I'm no longer actively seeking the Presidency, is where it really - this whole thing became very real," she said with a hint of emotion still in her voice. But as wild as emotions have been this week, O'Donnell remains inspired. "I think the greatest thing is it's not over," she said referring to Dean's plan to continue with a new organization. "I'm taking away hope and inspiration after a loss."

Back in November, O'Donnell cited Dean's February 21st speech to the DNC in Washington, DC where the former Vermont governor sharply criticized his own party, as a real turning point in the campaign.

Today, that speech is still one of O'Donnell's fondest memories. "That really was one of the moments I'll look back to as one of the most exciting and uplifting moments," she said. "We felt like we had a microphone."

Others high points for O'Donnell include her work on the Dean Sleepless Summer Tour and her work with Dean's wife, Judy. "She's just such a wonderful person," O'Donnell said of Dr. Steinberg. As for keepsakes - O'Donnell has campaign clothing, staff credentials, and a particularly treasured jug of maple syrup Dean gave her in the early days of the campaign.

Like so many of the Dean staff, O'Donnell is unsure of just what she'll do when she leaves Burlington. She will vote for and support the nominee of the Democratic Party, but will not work on another Presidential campaign this year. "At this point I can't forsee working for another nominee formally," she said because of her strong attachment to the Dean campaign. But even though she won't sign on as staff with another Presidential candidate, it is also because of her commitment to Howard Dean that O'Donnell will stay in the political fight.

"It was Howard Dean that inspired me to come," she said. "Now he's inspired me to continue."
--Eric Salzman