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Trail Bytes

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

Kerry drew first blood, but both candidates took direct hits. The Democrat was quick off the mark accusing the president of rushing to war in Iraq and lacking a plan to win the peace there. President Bush quickly returned fire, over and over accusing the senator of vacillating and lacking the leadership skills needed to lead America and its military.

"As the politics change, his positions change and that's not how a commander-in-chief acts," said Mr. Bush. The phrase "flip-flop" never passed the president's lips, but it was a charge he repeatedly leveled against Kerry. "The only thing consistent about my opponent's position is that he's been inconsistent," said Mr. Bush in a line clearly prepared for his verbal showdown with Kerry.

He blasted the senator for saying Iraq was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for voting against the $87 billion dollar funding bill for military operations in Iraq. On both counts, the president said "that's not what a commander-in-chief does." Further, he said American troops will not follow somebody who has said the things Kerry has.

It was evident that some things Kerry said really irked Mr. Bush. When the Democrat charged that the President excluded the UN from the invasion of Iraq, Bush said "that's totally absurd." And he called it "ludicrous" when Kerry suggested more UN resolutions might have made Saddam give in.

But near the end of the 90-minute encounter, when PBS moderator Jim Lehrer asked the president whether something Kerry just said "raised any hackles," Mr. Bush said, "I'm a pretty calm guy. I don't take it personally." That's another way of saying, "Don't get mad, get even."

No Spin Here: Is there much journalistic purpose in asking the top aides to either candidate how they did in "The Debate?" You never get a straight answer, so what's the point? Suffice it to say that each campaign's senior advisors thought their candidate conquered the rhetorical world and his opponent was a weasel. We already knew that.

At a post-debate rally, Mr. Bush clearly seemed in good spirits and humor. "Anything worthwhile on TV?" he asked a crowd of supporters that just finished watching the televised debate.

Declaring that he "enjoyed" the verbal slugfest, he said "I had a good time up there talking about what I believe… It's not that hard to debate if you know what's in your heart and where you want to lead this country," he told his enthusiastic audience. They would have cheered no matter how he did.
--Mark Knoller

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.

Kerry drew first blood, but both candidates took direct hits. The Democrat was quick off the mark accusing the president of rushing to war in Iraq and lacking a plan to win the peace there. President Bush quickly returned fire, over and over accusing the Senator of vacillating and lacking the leadership skills needed to lead America and its military.

"As the politics change, his positions change and that's not how a Commander-in-Chief acts," said Mr. Bush. The phrase "flip-flop" never passed the president's lips, but it was a charge he repeatedly leveled against Kerry. "The only thing consistent about my opponent's position is that he's been inconsistent," said Mr. Bush in a line clearly prepared for his verbal showdown with Kerry.

He blasted the senator for saying Iraq was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for voting against the $87 billion dollar funding bill for military operations in Iraq. On both counts, the president said "that's not what a commander-in-chief does." Further, he said American troops will not follow somebody who has said the things Kerry has.

It was evident that some things Kerry said really irked Mr. Bush. When the Democrat charged that the President excluded the UN from the invasion of Iraq, Bush said "that's totally absurd." And he called it "ludicrous" when Kerry suggested more UN resolutions might have made Saddam give in.

But near the end of the 90-minute encounter, when PBS moderator Jim Lehrer asked the president whether something Kerry just said "raised any hackles," Mr. Bush said, "I'm a pretty calm guy. I don't take it personally." That's another way of saying, "Don't get mad, get even."

No Spin Here: Is there much journalistic purpose in asking the top aides to either candidate how they did in "The Debate?" You never get a straight answer, so what's the point? Suffice it to say that each campaign's senior advisors thought their candidate conquered the rhetorical world and his opponent was a weasel. We already knew that.

At a post-debate rally, Mr. Bush clearly seemed in good spirits and humor. "Anything worthwhile on TV?" he asked a crowd of supporters that just finished watching the televised debate.

Declaring that he "enjoyed" the verbal slugfest, he said "I had a good time up there talking about what I believe…It's not that hard to debate if you know what's in your heart and where you want to lead this country," he told his enthusiastic audience. They would have cheered no matter how he did.
--Steve Chaggaris

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.

John Edwards did not attempt to take the focus off his running mate Thursday, keeping out of the spotlight before the first presidential debate. The candidate spent most of the day in Washington, D.C., where he worked on his own debate preparations before heading off to Columbus, Ohio to hold a post-debate rally.

The senator watched his running mate take on President Bush from his Columbus hotel room. One staffer in the room with Edwards said the senator was very pleased with Senator Kerry's performance. One point he was particularly impressed with was when Kerry pointed out Bush failed to capture Osama bin Laden when he had the chance, instead diverting resources to Iraq.

At the late night rally, some 5,000 gathered to watch the debate on giant television screens before hearing from the vice presidential candidate. Edwards praised his running mate's debate prowess and Ohio football. "So, let me ask you Columbus—are the Buckeyes playing good football? And did John Kerry own that stage tonight in Florida?"

Edwards said Kerry proved he is "ready for this job" and added, "I saw exactly the kind of commander in chief America needs on that stage tonight and it was John Kerry."

After he gave the Bush administration a good lashing on what Democrats call a failed foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, Edwards made it clear what is next for his campaign: "What you'll be able to hear about over the next week, week and a half, is since tonight's debate was about national security and foreign policy, we haven't even gotten to the damage that they've done here, right?" Edwards then promised supporters he would address domestic issues like energy independence at his own debate next week.

Carolyn Christy, a supporter who attended the post-debate rally, is confident that Edwards will win next week's VP debate because the Democrat has "a lot more understanding of the American people in general than Dick Cheney does." She added, "With his legal training, he should do very well."

Columbus resident Douglas Erickson wasn't as sure, saying Edwards would have to "demonstrate to the American people that he understands what the issues are." When asked how Edwards would stack up, Erickson responded, "We'll have to wait and see. You never know what's going to happen."

Starting Friday, Edwards will hole up at an upstate New York retreat (the same one used for President Clinton's debate preps in 1996) to bone up for his Tuesday rendezvous with the vice president. In another flashback for Democrats, Washington power lawyer Bob Barnett will be playing the vice president in debate practice, a familiar position for the attorney who played Cheney opposite Joe Lieberman in 2000.
--Bonney Kapp

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY

Before retiring to his room in Denver to watch the debate in private, Cheney made a crack at the expense of John Kerry to the crowd at a fundraiser for congressional candidate Greg Walcher. "There's been a last minute flurry on the Kerry side about the lights on the podium. They signed an agreement approving the lights. I guess this is like John Kerry who was for the lights before he was against them."

He also impressed upon the crowd what he expected from the debate. "I think you'll see a very clear choice between the president who is absolutely committed to the right course of action and a senator who is not quite sure what he believes. Whatever he says tonight will contradict something he has said during the course of this campaign."

After the debate, he criticized Kerry but spent more time complimenting the president, not so much on his performance during the debate but more for his actions over the last four years. "I don't think you can look at that debate tonight and conclude anything other than on the one case we've got in George Bush a man who has done it, who has been there, done it four different, for four different years now, and done a superb job, made the right decisions for America."

He also attacked the Democrat's repeated critical evaluation of the coalition in Iraq. "We've got 30 countries fighting alongside of us in Iraq and we're prepared to work to lead a coalition." Falling back on a stump speech favorite, he finished, "But we will never submit to the objections of a few. We will never seek a permission slip to defend the United States of America."

From Denver, the vice president then flew to his home in Wyoming to practice for his debate next week. He has been preparing for several weeks by participating in mock debates with Ohio Congressman Rob Portman standing in for John Edwards. Cheney will remain outside the public eye until Tuesday when he shows up in Cleveland ahead of the vice presidential debate there.
--Josh Gross

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