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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


The White House is standing by its assertion that President Bush fully completed his military obligations while in the Texas Air National Guard. But documents obtained and broadcast Wednesday night by CBS News' 60 Minutes raise new questions.

Papers from the files of the late Col. Jerry Killian - one of Mr Bush's commanders in the guard - clearly show that Killian did not think Mr. Bush completed his duty. He suspended then-Lt. Bush from flight duty for failing to submit to a required physical.

Killian, who died 20 years ago, also complained of pressure from higher-ups to give then Lt. Bush good evaluations.

In an interview for 60 Minutes, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said "it's impossible for anybody to read the mind of a dead man. Jerry Killian writes memos to himself in this file."

As for the failure to take the physical, Bartlett said "President Bush didn't take the flight exam because he was going to a unit that didn't fly his plane."

"Everybody knows President Bush didn't take his flight exam," said Bartlett. "After flying for 400 -- more than 500 hours in the cockpit, President Bush after his fourth year in service, asked for permission to go in a non-flying capacity to Alabama. There was no reason for President Bush to take a flight exam if he wasn't going to be flying."

The bottom line argument from Bartlett is this: "President Bush would not have received the honorable discharge that he was granted when he returned from Alabama if he had not met his requirements."

Mr. Bush campaigns Thursday in Pennsylvania - a state he lost four years ago but has been targeting aggressively in pursuit of its 21 electoral votes. This is his 36th visit to Pennsylvania state since taking office - the 13th this year.
--Mark Knoller


John Kerry regularly takes a shot the Bush-Cheney folks over their use of loyalty oaths and screened questions in an effort to mute dissenters at their events. On Wednesday, however, Kerry's supporters may have taken the muting to another level.

Within the first two minutes of Kerry's Cincinnati speech lambasting Bush's handling of the Iraq war, an anti-Kerry heckler jumped to his feet and started shouting at the Democrat, criticizing Kerry's anti-war efforts after his Vietnam service.

Almost immediately, Mike Russell, a local Republican activist, was wrestled to the ground, placed in a headlock, and then forced out of the Cincinnati Museum Center.

As Russell complained about a sore neck and was being tended to by medics outside, Kerry was telling the audience he has "nothing but the greatest respect for people's right to have their opinions and to express them here in the United States of America."

He became a bit less gracious as he continued saying, "It's a terrific tactic of the Bush team, they love to disrupt, they love to interrupt. They don't want America to hear the truth, but we will talk the truth."

Kerry then reflected back on his days as an anti-war protestor - the same days Russell was shouting at Kerry about.

"I honestly respect the differences of opinion and the emotions that people feel. ... I once stood up and spoke about what I thought our government was doing was wrong and so many of our generation believed deeply in that right."
--Steve Chaggaris


John Edwards rang the bell in what is now round two of a Edwards-Cheney match that began when the vice president told Iowa voters a "wrong choice" on election day would increase "the danger that we'll get hit again" by terrorists.

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

The Democrats, however, heard a different tone. Translating his Republican counterpart's statement at a West Virginia town hall meeting on Wednesday, Edwards said, "If you don't vote for them, Bush and Cheney, and they lose, and then when or if another terrorist attack occurs, it's the responsibility of the American people that it happened."

"This statement by the vice president is intended not only to divide us, in addition to that it's dishonorable and it's undignified," Edwards continued, clearly unsatisfied with Womack's explanation.

Though President Bush still has not responded directly to Edwards' challenge to call for an end to the controversial Swift Boat ads a few weeks ago, the candidate for vice president made his second appeal to Mr. Bush himself on the Cheney statement.

"The president of the United States should renounce this statement," he said. "This is a test for the president and we will see whether this president meets that test over the coming days."

So far, the only response to Edwards' request was from White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "There are differences in how the two candidates approach the war on terror," he told reporters. "That's what the vice president was talking about in his remarks."

Edwards reiterated his challenge to the president at his rally at the University of Maine on Wednesday evening, alongside author and Kerry/Edwards supporter Stephen King, who declared the Bush administration, "the most dangerous and unpleasant bunch that we've had since the Nixon years."

Never one to miss an opportunity for a good pun, Edwards' spokesman Mark Kornblau noted, "If we make the wrong choice on November 2nd, you know what else we'll get? Four more years of 'Misery,'" referring to King's best-selling book.
--Bonney Kapp


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