Campaign Roadblog, 2/26/04

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.


Thurs. Feb. 26: A debate featuring Kerry and John Edwards doing their best to point out their few differences was the focus of Kerry's campaign day (see related Web story).

One interesting moment in the debate at the University of Southern California was when Kerry was asked about his opposition to the death penalty, except for terrorists. When asked whether a person who murders a child should be put to death, Kerry handled the question much more deftly than an unemotional and long-winded Michael Dukakis did when he was asked the now-famous "if your wife were raped and murdered" question in a 1988 debate.

"My instinct is to want to strangle that person with my own hands," Kerry said. "But we have 111 people who have been now released from death row... because of DNA evidence that showed they didn't commit the crime of which they were convicted."

Thursday began with a flight from St. Paul, Minn., to Los Angeles, during which Kerry came back to chat with reporters. These chats, which reporters have requested be on the record, have now pretty much turned into Kerry just shooting the breeze. "No politics. No politics," he repeated as he talked about biking with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (he was just kidding) and recent movies he's seen.

After landing, Kerry visited striking workers at a Vons Supermarket in Santa Monica where he spoke with them about health care.

"Every single one of you are heroes to this country, because you've been out there fighting not just for yourselves but for the right for every single person in this country to have health care," he told the crowd.

Later, after the USC debate, Kerry spoke to a rally at the California African-American Museum, where he was joined by his daughter Alex, actor Billy Baldwin and former Gov. Gray Davis, who wound up endorsing Kerry.

"I'm here to enlist in the Kerry army," Davis said in his 59-second endorsement "speech."

Also on Thursday, Kerry called on President Bush to name former presidential candidate, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., to be a special envoy to deal with the Haiti crisis. About Graham, who's rumored to be endorsing Kerry soon, Kerry said he "knows the situation in Haiti extremely well, and knows the cost that widespread violence will cause not only in Haiti, but on our shores."

Friday, Kerry delivers a speech on terrorism and national security at UCLA before jetting to San Francisco and Oakland for a day of fund-raisers (closed to the press), meetings and a rally.
--Steve Chaggaris


Thurs. Feb. 26: "We threw out the campaign handbook a long time ago," says Sen. Edwards' press secretary, Jennifer Palmieri. In a candid discussion earlier today, Palmieri told a handful of reporters that "this has been an unconventional campaign" and "the normal campaign rules do not apply to Edwards."

As they gear up for Super Tuesday, the Edwards campaign is trying to overcome a 300 delegate deficit to Sen. Kerry. They have run a positive and optimistic campaign, and up until now it has served them fairly well. Edwards came in close behind Kerry in Iowa, he won decisively in South Carolina and had a surprising second place finish in Wisconsin. While Kerry has won 18 of the 20 primary states, Edwards has managed to turn this into a two-man race. Some would argue that he was hurt by Clark and Dean staying in the race too long and taking votes away from him, but this is the democratic process and they were entitled to the same bite at the apple as Edwards.

For Edwards, his campaign has been all about "inspiring people." The senator, who was the first person in his family to go to college, tells voters he "believes that everything is possible." In fact, yesterday in the affluent town of Pomona, Calif., he gave an entire speech about poverty. While the people there are certainly not living in poverty, Edwards was touching on a topic that he thinks is important. He says time and time again, "It's not an academic issue; it's a moral issue."

Palmieri said, "We realized around December that he's really not a normal politician. He talks about thinks that he believes in." Edwards says that "most politicians don't talk about poverty because most of those people don't vote and it's not high up on a list of polls. But here's why we should talk about it; because it's wrong and you and I can do something about it."

While his sunny message has helped this one-term senator became the main rival to frontrunner Kerry, the clock is ticking and Edwards may not have enough time to inspire enough people. The consensus among the pundits is Edwards is one of the most charismatic speakers in history, but he lacks the experience to move our nation forward at a time of great uncertainty. In fact, in its endorsement of Kerry today, the New York Times said that at a time when our country is at war and facing multiple threats of terrorism, our country is not ready to change leaders "if the challenger seems to require a lot of on the job training."

In a press avail today, Edwards responded to a question about his foreign policy experience and said that he was on the Senate Intelligence Committee and helped write the rules to keep America safe, and that he's traveled to all parts of the world and met with foreign leaders. But more importantly, he says that "the American people need someone with leadership, character, strength, conviction and good judgment." These are all qualities he thinks he can bring to the table.

Being that Edwards and Kerry are both Democrats and more or less agree on most issues, the main thing that separates them is that Edwards claims to be a Washington outsider and Kerry is an insider. Edwards continues to say he "will bring new and fresh ideas" and "that's what the American people are hungry for." While he does not criticize Kerry by name, the inference is that Kerry has spent too much time inside the Beltway and will not be able to provide a fresh vision for America.

The notion of a Kerry/Edwards ticket has sort of taken a back seat in recent days, presumably because people may think that bitter feelings will develop between the two candidates. But it may not be far from Kerry or Edwards' minds. After all, the two candidates have still not attacked each other, and assuming Kerry is the nominee, Edwards has raised his national profile and could be an asset to Kerry. Moreover, most voters like everything about Edwards, and mention him as a possible contender in 2008.

Edwards has to think about what will happen if Kerry beats Bush in November; 2008, then, would be out of the question. If Kerry loses to Bush in November, then who knows if the Democrats will recruit Hillary or have another flavor of the month. And what could Edwards do from now until then that would give him the experience he is lacking? Perhaps work for the Council on Foreign Relations or another foreign policy think tank; but being a veep at age 50 and not having a lot of political experience may not be such a bad thing for Edwards. There are differing views on whether Kerry would even choose Edwards, but if Edwards can help him carry the South, and another swing state like Ohio, Minnesota or Florida, it could prove to be a winning ticket. I can hear it now – "Go JOHN Go!"

Without jumping the gun, tonight Edwards and Kerry face off in the CNN/L.A. Times debate. Edwards told reporters "he plans to point out the differences between Senator Kerry and himself." He says he will do this "in a way that's consistent with the way he's run his campaign." The only problem is that if "Mr. Positive" does not become "Mr. Negative" in the next few days, he may win negative states on Tuesday. That would certainly place a cloud over his sunny campaign.
--Alison Schwartz