Campaign Roadblog, 2/29/04

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. 29: While Kerry consistently refuses to make any primary or caucus predictions, and he's resisted publicly acknowledging polls that show him winning all ten Super Tuesday contests, when it comes to the Academy Awards, Kerry acted pretty sure he knew which film would win Best Picture.

His guess on the plane Sunday from New York City to Buffalo was Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In fact he was so sure he boasted, "You can take it to the bank." Speaking of banks, Kerry said he was unable to join the reporters' Oscar prediction pool because he didn't have the $5 cash to get in, pulling out his pockets to prove he was cashless.

Just prior to his Oscar forecast, Kerry was asked how he felt about Sunday's CBS News/New York Times debate, he responded, "That was a debate?"

"It didn't seem like there was enough time," Kerry said about the 60-minute debate. "We didn't talk about education. We didn't talk about health care. We didn't talk about the economy."

The weekend began on the Left Coast with a flight from Oakland to New York - stopping in Indianapolis for refueling. While on the tarmac in Indy, Kerry tossed around a football with staff members and reporters before holding a brief news conference to criticize President Bush for replacing two frequently dissenting members of a bioethics advisory panel that focuses on issues such as stem-cell research.

"A scientific panel ought to be chosen on the basis of science and on the basis of reputation, not politics," he said.

Upon arriving in New York, Kerry held a town hall meeting in Brooklyn at Medgar Evers College. The 1 hour, 45 minute-long marathon event featured 55 minutes of questions from several of the 500 in attendance.

He wound up taking questions on several subjects including one from a concerned Howard Stern listener who felt that Clear Channel Communications was repressing Stern's free speech by pulling the show from six of its radio stations. Kerry disagreed.

"Howard Stern does have the right to say whatever he wants anywhere, but he doesn't necessarily have the right to say it on that station if the people who run the station don't want him to," he said.

Sunday, after spending the night at the home of a family friend in Manhattan, Kerry participated in the CBS News debate, exchanging barbs with John Edwards, two days before the ten-state Super Tuesday slate of primaries and caucuses (see related Web story).

Later in Buffalo at a town hall meeting, he walked on stage to music from "The Natural" and was introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, who took a shot at President Bush on behalf of Kerry. "Do you think he's gonna take any crap from someone who didn't show up in Alabama?" referring to the questions surrounding President Bush's service in the National Guard.

Kerry then proceeded to give his shortest stump speech on record - four minutes - in order to get right to the questions, 45 minutes worth.

However, before taking questions, Kerry introduced those joining him including his daughter, Vanessa, who's on break from medical school, and local resident Steve Hatch, who served with Kerry on one of his swift boats in Vietnam. Before acknowledging Hatch, Kerry, in an effort to describe their connection, digressed into an odd explanation that sounded more like Numerology 101.

"One of them was 44 boat and the other was the 94 boat," Kerry said, referring to the two different swift boats he was on in Vietnam. "And it occurred to me, this afternoon we were talking about it back there. I am running to be the 44th president of the United States and I was on the 44th boat. I think that's a pretty good sign."

Instead of leaving the numbers game at that, he kept going. "And the other boat I was on was the 94 boat, and that has a 4 in it, and I'm running in November 04 and that's a pretty good sign." Unfortunately, he never mentioned a numerological connection to the 5 bucks he didn't have on the plane to enter the Oscar pool.

Monday, Kerry holds events in Baltimore, Columbus, Ohio and Atlanta. On Tuesday, with a potential important gun vote in the Senate looming, Kerry could go back to Washington, D.C., before attending a Super Tuesday party in Tampa, Florida.

Endorsement watch: Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and his son, former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo both endorsed Kerry on Saturday. He also received a slew of newspaper endorsements in Super Tuesday states, including the New York Daily News, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Akron Beacon Journal, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Albany Times Union, which wrote that Kerry should choose Edwards as his running mate because the North Carolina Senator "represents great promise for the future of his party." The paper added that a Kerry-Edwards pairing "would be formidable" in November.
--Steve Chaggaris


Sat. Feb. 28: Tiger Woods may be the king of golf, but this morning Senator Edwards tried to reign over Augusta, Georgia, home of the Masters. On a beautiful sunny morning, Edwards began his day at the Historic Tabernacle Baptist Church, where he addressed the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. With Super Tuesday 72 hours away, Edwards is hoping to defeat Kerry in the one Southern state that votes on March 2nd.

Since electability is such a huge factor, Edwards told the crowd that the latest national polls show that both he and Kerry would beat Bush. Additionally, Edwards said that his campaign is attracting independents, who are voters the Democrats will need to win the general election. Edwards said that in his home state of North Carolina he's beating Bush, while his rival Kerry is losing by double digits. "If we won North Carolina in 2000 Gore would be in the White House," said Edwards. "The 2000 election showed that you don't always win the presidency when you win the popular vote."

If it boils down to a popularity contest, Edwards may not be the coolest kid in the class. After all, Kerry has most of the party's key endorsements, and so far he's won 18 of the 20 primary states. Edwards is hoping that the support of up to 10 Deaniac groups nationwide will help his campaign, especially with their grassroots and get-out-the-vote organization. In fact, today members of N.Y. Deaniacs endorsed Edwards in front of George Washington in Union Square Park in New York City. In a conference call they said that Edwards espouses much of the same charisma as Dean, particularly in his appeal to younger people.

As for an endorsement by Governor Dean, his supporters said, "the governor decides things for himself." Dean is reported to have told his supporters that "the campaign was bigger then him; he was carrier of their message, but the real strength was with the people." Deaniacs for Edwards feel that Edwards clearly is the outsider like Dean, and he's not a career politician like Kerry. Most importantly, they think that Edwards has shown more respect for the grassroots, which fuels the engine of any campaign.

Well, if driving a fast car or playing golf isn't your game, what about basketball? At an afternoon rally in Atlanta, Edwards was introduced by ex-NBA superstar Charles Barkley. Barkley may be known for his moves on the court, but off the court he's showing his support for Edwards. "I'm just like everyone else and he's the guy I want to win," Barkley told me after the event. "A guy asked me if I'd vote for John Kerry and I said probably not; but I'd vote for John Edwards," added Barkley.

Barkley thinks Edwards should be Mr. President, but he doesn't think of him as Mr. Athlete. Despite the fact that Edwards was an excellent college football player, Barkley said, "If Edwards played football he wasn't too good because he's too little – and he's too little for basketball. He'd make a much better president then a football player." Barkley also told me he'd be honored to go to the White House if he's there.

After Atlanta, Edwards headed to Cleveland, Ohio, another critical state in both the primaries and the general election. Then he'll go to New York City to prep for the CBS News/New York Times debate which takes place tomorrow morning. It's the final debate before Super Tuesday, and with the strong possibility that he could lose all 10 states, Edwards' performance is very important. In previous primaries he's seen a surge after debates and in the final days leading up to the primary, so he's hoping for the same sort of good luck again. Unfortunately for him, it may be too little too late. Kerry is leading in all of the March 2 states, and though past polls have been wrong (particularly Wisconsin), there are only so many times Edwards can come in second.

Edwards has been competing on a challenging court and playing on a hilly course. But with the clock ticking there's no time for foul shots or birdies – only three pointers and a hole in one.
--Alison Schwartz