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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


A bill-signing for legislation extending popular middle-class tax cuts? Could there be an election coming?

At a ceremony in Iowa today, President Bush signs into law the politically named Working Families Tax Relief Act. The bill extends for five years key elements of the 2001 tax cut bill including:

  • the $1000 per child tax credit;

  • relief for the so-called marriage penalty;

  • and the expanded 10-percent income tax bracket.

    The president calls the bill "good news for America's Families." In his Saturday radio address, he trumpeted the measure, saying, "Because we acted, 94 million Americans will have a lower tax bill again next year, including 70 million women and 38 million families with children."

    The measure was passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate, though neither John Kerry nor John Edwards were present for the vote on September 23.

    A spokesman says Kerry supports extending the middle-class tax cuts, though he criticized the inclusion of some other tax breaks in the bill. Further, the Kerry campaign charges today that Mr. Bush "wants more tax breaks for the wealthy, while Kerry wants to cut taxes for working families."

    You won't be surprised to learn that President Bush sees it differently. In that radio address Saturday, he portrayed Kerry as an opponent of tax cuts.

    "When I proposed tax relief for working families in 2001 and 2003, Senator Kerry and other Democratic leaders voted against it," said the president. " In fact, Senator Kerry has voted consistently against marriage penalty relief, against increasing the child taxcredit, and against expanding the 10-percent bracket. Now, Senator Kerry and the Democrat leaders are proposing a lot of new federal spending, and the only way to pay for all their promises is to raise taxes on working families"

    The bill Mr. Bush is signing also extends 23 other tax breaks, and grants one more year's protection to some taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax.

    In all, the bill's price tag is nearly $146 billion over ten years. None of it offset by tax hikes or reductions in federal spending.

    That has House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer calling the bill "fiscal child abuse," as it will add to the federal deficits in the coming years.

    By signing the bill in Iowa, Mr. Bush is paying tribute to the state's senior U.S. senator, Charles Grassley. He's chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and shepherded the bill through passage.

    In addition, Iowa is a battleground state that Mr. Bush lost in 2000 by just over 3/10 of one percent of the vote.

    Recent polls show candidates Bush and Kerry in something of a dead heat for the state's seven electoral votes.

    How Did You Spend Saturday Night?

    Members of the White House press corps were stranded in Akron, Ohio. There was a problem with the starter on one of the two engines of the Primaris 757 that serves as the press plane.

    So after a day in Ohio covering the president's campaign bus trip through Columbus, Mansfield and Cuyahoga Falls, members of the press were stuck for about six hours waiting for another aircraft to be flown in.

    Instead of arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in the early evening as scheduled, it was after one in the morning.

    No one considered spending the night in Akron, in sharp contrast to the decision a few weeks earlier to stay in Las Vegas, when an FAA communications outage grounded the press plane.

    There are no casinos in Akron.
    --Mark Knoller


    This morning in New Hampshire, Kerry held a town hall meeting on science and stem cell research with Michael J. Fox, and while that's a headline in itself, the underlying storyline this week is that Kerry's handlers are putting him in position to publicly prepare for Friday's presidential debate.

    Today's town hall meeting marks his second in as many days and he still has at least one more this week prior to this week's debate, which itself will be in a town hall format. And while Kerry will spend a couple of days in Colorado privately prepping for the debate, nothing can substitute for the experience he receives during his public town halls (the campaign insists the questioners are not pre-screened like at some Bush-Cheney town halls, with Kerry even publicly saying before he takes questions that "nobody here had to sign a loyalty oath to get in" and "nobody's had their questions screened").

    Kerry, who, according to his campaign, has held over 125 town hall meetings since he announced his candidacy in September 2003, is clearly comfortable in the open format. He does have one major weakness, however: he tends to ramble during his answers, regularly digressing into lengthy, drawn-out responses, some even running as long as 10 minutes.

    However, on Sunday in Austintown, Ohio, Kerry took 40 minutes worth of questions from the crowd and, in what seemed to be a concerted effort to limit his wordiness, kept all but one of his answers to under three minutes.

    Aides have been concentrating on making Kerry more aware of his windiness and, in preparation for the strict time limit on answers in the debates, are getting him to concentrate more on how long he's speaking.

    In fact, one campaign official mentioned that the flap prior to the first debate in which the Kerry campaign complained about the timing lights being too visible was mainly a "ruse" to get the Bush folks thinking Kerry was having a problem giving concise answers.

    During that debate, it turned out Kerry was successful in not going overtime with his answers leading him to joke to a crowd this weekend, "I know you're here to cheer because you discovered John Kerry can complete a sentence in fifteen words or less."
    --Steve Chaggaris


    John Edwards often tells voters he doesn't "want to over-promise" how quickly a Kerry administration could turn around perceived problems with Iraq and the economy, for example. At a town hall meeting in Huber Heights, Ohio, Friday, he also made it clear he doesn't want to over-promise on his debate performance.

    When asked if he would do as well as his running mate did during the first presidential debate by a woman in the town hall, Edwards responded, "Let me say this, first of all John set a very high standard last night...and thank goodness he did." He added, "Dick Cheney's a very experienced debater...but what we saw [Thursday] night is the truth and the facts are on our side."

    Friday evening Edwards headed to the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York to brush up on those facts and prepare for Tuesday night's debate. Washington power attorneys Bob Barnett and Andy Pincus played Dick Cheney and moderator Gwen Ifill respectively during the one or two full length run-throughs Edwards held over the long weekend dubbed "Debate Camp" by staffers.

    The room where the rehearsals are being held is off-limits to the traveling press corps (which has been relegated to the hotel's veranda overlooking Lake Chautauqua), but spokesman Mark Kornblau described it as very similar to the set-up at the actual debate site at Case Western in Ohio, complete with cameras.

    In addition to Edwards' staffers who joined the senator in his preparations, senior Kerry advisor Bob Shrum and former Al Gore advisor Ron Klain, both of whom were involved in Senator Kerry's preps, are camped out in Chautauqua as well. Mrs. Edwards has also been in the mix because the senator "trusts implicitly" her advice, per Kornblau.

    While Edwards has never participated in a one-on-one debate as a candidate for office, many pundits believe his skills as a successful trial lawyer will come in use. Spokesman Kornblau was sure to differentiate a debate and a trial, and reiterated Cheney's vast experience as a debater-interrupted only by his time as Halliburton's CEO. A role that the Edwards camp says will be fair game in Tuesday's debate as it's "a part of their record in office" and a "symbol of this administration's choosing powerful interests over the people.

    While the press corps has been kept at bay from the actual preparations, the campaign did organize a photo-op to keep their candidate's face in the news. The press corps was told to assemble Sunday morning at an early 8:15 to get footage of the Edwards family (sans daughter Cate) walking together on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution. But the morning walk was pushed back to an afternoon stop at a near-by farmer's market because the senator didn't get back from debate preps until after midnight the night before

    A relaxed-looking Edwards emerged Sunday afternoon wearing jeans and a Kerry Edwards "Debate Camp" fleece, the standard attire of many staffers over the weekend. Senator and Mrs. Edwards (the children returned to Washington for a friend's birthday party) walked through Haff Acre Farms, picked out a large pumpkin and purchased two pies for the press-which was much more interested in shouting out questions on the debate preps.

    Edwards revealed they were "working hard" and that "it's going fine." He seemed unfazed by the latest poll numbers showing a Kerry bounce. "Polls go up and down, but I felt very good about John Kerry's performance Thursday night," Edwards told reporters before scurrying off to greet the dozen or so voters gathered in the parking lot.
    --Bonney Kapp


    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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