As the presidential race heads into the home stretch, CBS News reporters are out on the road traveling with the Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards campaigns.
Read their dispatches and keep up with the latest campaign news in Trail Bytes, updated daily on CBSNews.com
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
After a day campaigning in Ohio, the state at the very top of the Bush campaign's must-win list, the President is back Tuesday at his Texas ranch. A top aide says Mr. Bush will use the day to "fine tune" his strategy for Thursday's first debate against John Kerry.
At both of his campaign rallies Monday, Mr. Bush got in a few pre-debate jabs at his rival. "It's been a little tough to prepare, 'cause he keeps changing positions on the war on terror."
In a preview of his debate line of attack, Mr. Bush portrayed Kerry as a serial flip-flopper on the issue of Iraq. "He voted for the use of force in Iraq - and then didn't vote to fund the troops. He complained that we're not spending enough money to help in reconstruction in Iraq, And now he says we're spending too much. He said it was the right decision to go into Iraq, and now he calls it the wrong war."
It was the set-up for Mr. Bush's punch line of the day at Kerry's expense: "He probably could spend 90 minutes debating himself."
The president intends to make the case that Kerry doesn't measure up to the leadership requirements of the presidency. "You cannot lead when people don't know where you stand," Mr. Bush told his rallies. "In order to make sure America's safer, the President must speak and mean what he says."
Tuesday's debate prep session at his ranch will be "very informal," says White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett. There'll be no more mock debates. Senator Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who played Sen. Kerry in those sessions, left the ranch after Sunday morning's session.
Bartlett says Gregg was in the president's face, just as the White House expects Kerry to be. "He spent every moment attacking the President," said Bartlett of Gregg. "That's what we expect," he said, Kerry will throw "the kitchen sink at us."
Exercising the power of the incumbency, President Bush asked Monday night for another $7.l billion in disaster relief in response to Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. The amount is in addition to $3.1 billion Mr. Bush requested two weeks ago, and $2 billion approved by Congress and signed into law on September 8. The funding is intended for disaster relief programs in nine states hard hit by the storms. Four of the nine are battleground states crucial to the president's re-election drive.
President Bush triggered a new attack from the Democratic National Committee when he said in that Fox News/Bill O'Reilly interview that he still has no regrets about his "Top Gun" style landing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in spring of last year.
That's where he addressed the nation and declared an end to "major combat operations" in Iraq under a banner emblazoned with the words "Mission Accomplished."
Since then, the U.S. death toll in Iraq has soared to over 1,000. A Democratic Party spokesman says Mr. Bush has yet to level with the American people that his message from the Lincoln was a mistake. Mr. Bush stands by what he said.
And as the president ended his rally Monday at Voice of America Park in West Chester, Ohio, loudspeakers blared the song "Mighty Wings" from the movie "Top Gun."
SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.
The plan for John Kerry is to spend most of Tuesday prepping for Thursday's presidential debate, in his suite at a resort in the rolling hills of Spring Green, Wisconsin. But he wound up turning what was originally meant to be quiet Monday into an aggressive campaign day.
In addition to launching new TV ads in Wisconsin and in Ohio, where President Bush campaigned Monday, Kerry held a 90-minute town hall meeting at a local middle school and he didn't hold back his criticisms of the president.
"Can we change horses in midstream?" said Kerry, referring to the question about whether the country should change leaders during a time of war. "When your horse is headed down for the waterfalls or when your horse is drowning, it's a good time to change horses in midstream."
Kerry, however, was not the lone political voice in southwest Wisconsin Monday. Within an hour of the end of Kerry's event, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke on behalf of Bush-Cheney just miles away in Dodgeville at the Land's End plant (and he sat down for local TV interviews) ensuring a rebuttal to Kerry's attacks in the local news.
Perhaps knowing the Bush folks would be getting their side of the story on in Wisconsin, Kerry offered up his own sound bite in an attempt to counter Bush's visit to Ohio.
"The president's going to Ohio today. I'll bet you, I'll just bet you folks he's not going to mention today that under his watch he's lost 237,000 jobs in Ohio. I don't think you're going to hear that today. You're going to hear all this talk, 'Oh we've turned the corner, we're doing better blah, blah, you know, blah and blah and blah.'"
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.
On Monday, Edwards held about his 100th town hall-style meeting in New Hampshire. This according to the candidate himself, who returned for the second time since becoming John Kerry's running mate to the state he visited often during the primaries.
Audience members grilled the would-be vice president in a town hall meeting that lasted more than an hour, proving to be a politically adept crowd used to dealing with national candidates.
Fran Gordon, 84, of Manchester was one who made clear that Edwards knew her opinion. After Edwards' guest speaker, Kristen Breitweiser, made an eloquent and emotional endorsement of the Democratic ticket, Gordon threw in her two cents. Taking the microphone, Gordon, who heard John F. Kennedy speak at the same outdoor park more than 40 years ago, gave Edwards some friendly advice.
Unaware of Breitweiser's claims that the current administration stonewalled the creation of a 9/11 commission, Gordon decided there were others like her. "It seems to me that if that young woman would do a national commercial just say, no really, really," she said as the crowd roared, Edwards laughed, and Breitweiser shook her head.
"It would only have to be a 30-second commercial, it wouldn't be so expensive," she continued and when Gordon finally relinquished the microphone, the audience cheered. One woman screamed "hire that woman!" as another ran up to the candidate with a dollar bill to subsidize (unclear if the unaccepted money was for Fran Gordon's salary or the yet-to-be filmed ad).
"Nothing like getting media advice at a town hall meeting. Not a bad idea, though, not a bad idea," Edwards said before moving on.
He assured another Granite State free thinker "I will do that," when urged to use his political talents to the fullest extent possible as Kerry's partner.
Edwards was forced to skip his Monday afternoon $500,000 Rhode Island fundraiser because of a dispute between the mayor and the local fire fighters union in Providence that planned to picket the event. Edwards would not cross the picket line. But the senator made up for it by raking in $1.25 million for the Democrats at two fundraisers in New York.
Donors gathered at the first evening event forked over $750,000 to hear actress Glenn Close gush, "I think he has integrity, intelligence and charm," and that Edwards is an "amazing force of nature."
After saying the war on Iraq was a "distraction" to other, more looming threats, Edwards promised to New Yorkers "who were so many, so many of the victims and victims' families right here in your city...when John Kerry is President of the United States, we will find these terrorists cells wherever they are and crush them, before they come to America, before they do harm to the America people."
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY
On Friday, the vice president took a slight detail from his favorite subject (John Kerry "lacks the clarity of vision and purpose necessary to lead our country during extraordinary times.") to address an issue that will be of great importance to the Bush administration if it wins re-election.
At a Tulsa, Oklahoma fundraiser, Cheney reminded the crowd they needed to help elect more Republicans to the Senate in order to help the President push his agenda forward.
Speaking to supporters of Oklahoma Senate GOP hopeful Tom Coburn, Cheney used the three Bush tax cuts as examples to outline the need for sending the candidate to Washington.
"It's absolutely essential as we go forward here that we keep in mind that this isn't just about a seat for Oklahoma," the vice president told the $500-a-plate crowd. "This is also about control of the United States Senate and our capacity to be able to get the kind of support on the Hill that the President absolutely has to have going forward on the basic fundamental issues and programs of the day."
In stump speeches, Cheney will often mention that his lone roll provided by the Constitution as president of the Senate is to cast tie breaking votes. But that wasn't always so, he tells crowds in an attempt to make light of his legislative responsibilities. "My predecessor John Adams also had floor privileges. He could go down into the well and actually participate in the debate, and then he did a couple of times and they withdrew his floor privileges," he's told crowds in the past.
On Friday, however, there was no triviality. "But the fact is, that package that we passed last year that hung by a thread. If we'd had one less vote in the Senate, we would not have had last year's tax bill. And that tax bill was directly responsible for the economic growth that we've seen over the course of the last year now."
The vice president also had another concern beyond the actual casting of votes. Namely, that the majority also controls the committees that shape the Senate's agenda and legislative schedule. "It's also about who controls all those key committees in the United States Senate, and about a choice for example, between having Orrin Hatch from Utah as chairman of the judiciary committee, or Pat Leahy from Vermont as chairman of the judiciary committee," he stressed.
Although senators with presidential aspirations have not had much success reaching the White House, for better or worse, legislators from that chamber will play a markedly significant roll in whether Vice President Cheney keeps his job for another four years.