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

With Congress back in session - though not for long - President Bush wants to be seen pressing for quick passage of those recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that require legislative action.

He met at the White House Wednesday morning with the congressional leadership and key members of the intelligence committees. Mr. Bush has said he would work with Congress to establish the post and powers of a National Intelligence Director - to oversee all 15 of the Government's intelligence agencies.

Disaster Relief

Mid-morning, the president leaves on another trip to Florida to survey damage inflicted in recent days by Hurricane Frances. He'll also visit the National Hurricane Center in Miami to thank the staff there for their hard work during this hurricane season. He'll also be briefed on the threat posed by Hurricane Ivan.

The trip is billed as official, though clearly it has political implications as Mr. Bush makes his 27th visit to the state that decided the 2000 presidential election and is indispensable to his re-election bid. His brother Jeb, of course, is the state's governor.

Mr. Bush is urging Congress to act quickly on a request for $2 billion in additional disaster relief for Florida and other states hit by Hurricanes Frances and Charley. The president says he may ask for further assistance.

U.S. Death Toll In Iraq

The president was campaigning in Missouri Tuesday when it was learned the number of American defense personnel killed in Iraq had reached 1000. While Mr, Bush didn't mention the tragic milestone, spokesman Scott McClellan was quick to say "we remember, we honor and we mourn the loss of the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Figure in the American personnel killed in Afghanistan and he says it brings the combined death toll with Iraq to 1,200. McClellan said the new peak in the toll would not alter the president's determination to complete the U.S. mission in Iraq by seeing democracy take root there.

In fact, President Bush offered that assurance to a questioner at his "Ask President Bush" event earlier in the day in Sedalia, Missouri.

Speaking of his meetings with the families of American troops killed in Iraq, he said: "My promise to them is that we will complete the mission so that their child or their husband or wife has not died in vain."

New Shots At John Kerry

On his day-long bus trip around Missouri on Tuesday, the pesident took some new swipes at his challenger. He expanded his charge that Kerry has flip-flopped for and against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq - focusing on Kerry's latest charge that it was the "wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Mr. Bush accused Kerry of taking his lead from another democrat.

"It's that of his one-time rival Howard Dean," said Mr. Bush. "He even used the same words Howard Dean did - back when he supposedly disagreed with him."

The president also attacked Kerry for voting against liability reform legislation.

"For 20 years, he's been one of the trial lawyers' most reliable allies in the senate," said Mr. Bush. He went on to say of Kerry that "his fellow lawyers have responded with millions of dollars in campaign donations."

But What About 2008?

At that same "Ask President Bush" event yesterday, a supporter asked if there was any chance Vice President Cheney would run for the White House in 2008?

"Pardon me?" said the president.

"Any chance that he will run in '08?" repeated the questioner.

"Oh, no, listen, we've got to get through '04," said Mr. Bush.

He said he has no idea about 2008, though Cheney says repeatedly that this is his last campaign.
--Mark Knoller

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.

As the U.S. military death toll climbs above 1,000 in Iraq, John Kerry is turning up the heat on President Bush as he visits the Cincinnati site where Bush called Iraq a threat to the U.S. almost two years ago.

"George W. Bush's wrong choices have led America in the wrong direction in Iraq and left America without the resources we need here at home," Kerry said in Wednesday's prepared remarks.

"I would not have made the wrong choices that are forcing us to pay nearly the entire cost of this war - more than $200 billion that we're not investing in education, health care, and job creation here at home."

His campaign also unveiled a new TV ad Wednesday on the $200 billion and rising cost of the Iraq war repeating, "George Bush's wrong choices have weakened us here at home."

This focus on Iraq marks the third day of Kerry's newly aggressive campaign theme, "W stands for wrong."

On Tuesday at a Greensboro, North Carolina town hall meeting, Kerry harped on his charge that seemingly everything the president is doing is "wrong" as well as implying that the administration isn't being totally forthcoming with Americans.

"The truth, the truth, the truth," Kerry said, in a tone that not only has become more aggressive but serious as well. "Facts don't have a Democratic label or a Republican label. Facts are facts."

When one questioner asked "what the heck is going on" with Medicare, Kerry replied simply. "W. It's W."

Things did lighten up a bit when one overly-smitten female audience member screamed, "I think you're hot!"

And while the 60-year-old Kerry loved the attention, telling the woman, "At my age, that sounds good," his daughter Vanessa was obviously embarrassed as she put her head in her hands.

"That's not the way she thinks about her father," Kerry confessed.
--Steve Chaggaris

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.

John Edwards dropped by Theo & Stacy's Restaurant before leaving Kalamazoo to buy a "to go" breakfast and shake hands with patrons. It was more a photo-op than a scheme to win one vote at a time on Tuesday morning.

The candidate smiled broadly and greeted breakfast goers with his trademark, "Nice to see you." After he left a bi-partisan table of senior citizens who meet monthly at the diner for breakfast, Edwards sparked debate between lifelong friends.

"He seemed very personable, but I'm sure he wasn't as glad to see me as he said he was," noted Pat, a Kalamazoo resident and Bush supporter.

Her friend and Democratic supporter, Betty, scolded, "You've got to think positive."

"But he said it to everybody," Pat retorted.

"Well, he is glad to see everybody. I could tell," Betty said confidently and the two ladies shared a laugh, agreeing to disagree.

Later that afternoon, several thousand Ohioans came to hear Edwards speak at his Chillicothe rally, but it was the warm up act that stole the show. In his 7 ½ minute animated introduction, Cecil Roberts, the president of the United Mine Workers of America, had the crowd roaring.

"Whenever John Kerry was dodging bullets in Vietnam, George Bush was dodging the draft in the United States," Roberts said angrily. Then listing several in the Bush administration, he said "They're all hawks on this war. They're hawks for your kids, but not their kids. I spent a year in Vietnam. I never laid eyes on one of them-they're not hawks, brothers and sisters, they're chicken hawks."

Roberts blasted the president's record on healthcare and jobs, and even provided comic relief. "You've heard about the low carb diet, well I got a no carb diet for you. C-A-R-B. No Cheney! No Ashcroft! No Rumsfeld! No Bush!" he said as the crowd chanted along. "And I recommend very little (Condeleeza) Rice to go with it," he added.

Edwards took the stage and neither embraced nor distanced himself from Roberts' comments. "It's great to be with a man who spent his life fighting for working people," he said of the union president before delivering his stump speech.

The senator then headed off to Bloomington, Illinois, where he delivered a 15-minute version of his stump speech to about 200 donors at a half-million-dollar fundraiser.
--Bonney Kapp

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY

In three separate speeches in two days, Vice President Cheney introduced three new attacks against John Kerry into his usually stable stump speech. However, it was the re-wording of a longtime standard that drew most of the attention on Tuesday.

At a town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, Mr. Cheney was drawing a comparison between the war on terrorism and the situation facing the United States after WWII and before the Cold War.

"We're now at that point where we're making that kind of decision for the next 30 or 40 years, and it's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice," he stated.

"Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again. That we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind set if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war. I think that would be a terrible mistake for us."

The idea that the nation must act before being attacked is, of course, not a new wrinkle in the vice president's speech. He has used the argument often in the last few weeks of the campaign, including in his speech at the Republican Convention.

However, in the speech in Des Moines, it was the implication that America may face another terrorist attack if the voters don't make the "right choice" on Election Day that raised eyebrows.

While the vice president and his staff were flying from Iowa to New Hampshire for another speech, the Kerry/Edwards ticket was quick to criticize the vice president's suggesting that it voters on Nov. 2 "...make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again."

Edwards labeled it as "scare tactics" and "un-American."

Once back on the ground, the Cheney campaign rushed to the defense of the statement.

"Whoever is elected in November faces the prospect of another terrorist attack," responded Anne Womack, a Cheney campaign spokesperson. "The question is whether or not the right policies are in place to best protect our country."

Lost in all of this election year bickering was perhaps more election year bickering that went unnoticed. After Kerry's senatorial voting record on Defense Department weapons systems was criticized during the Republican Convention, Democrats pointed out that many of the things Kerry had voted against were later canceled by Cheney when he served as the Pentagon head.

In Des Moines, Cheney came to his own defense. "Because, in fact, when he was voting against those systems back in the '80s, I was voting for them when I was a member of the House of Representatives."

"And by the time I had become Secretary of Defense, the cold war had ended. The Soviet threat had gone away and we needed a new force and new kinds of capabilities," Cheney finished.

The vice president returned to Washington Tuesday night from New Hampshire for a respite from the campaign trail. He's back in action Thursday and Friday with a trip to Ohio and bus tour through Wisconsin.
--Josh Gross