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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

The Veep Debate

It was must-see TV at the White House as President Bush stayed up past his normal bedtime to watch the Tuesday's vice presidential debate. When it was over, a spokesman says Mr. Bush was quick to telephone his running mate and congratulate him for a job well done.

The spokesman quoted the president as telling Dick Cheney he did both a "great" and "outstanding" job.

Of course, if Mr. Bush thought otherwise, they wouldn't tell us.

Today's Bush Speech

Gearing up for his own next debate Friday with John Kerry, the president begins the day with a campaign speech this morning in Pennsylvania. The White House bills the address as a "significant speech on the two highest priorities facing the nation: Iraq and the Economy."

The speech is meant to be an indictment of John Kerry's approach to both issues.

Mr. Bush has repeatedly charged that Kerry's record of flip-flops and mixed signals on Iraq shows he has a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the war on terror.

And on the economy, Mr. Bush says Kerry will raise taxes and spend more, the opposite of a sound policy.

The Bremer Dilemma

The speech also gives the president his first chance to respond to the assertion by Paul Bremer, former U.S. administrator in Iraq, that more American troops were needed there after Saddam was toppled so as to stop looting and lawlessness.

Bremer tried to clarify his remarks yesterday at Michigan State University, saying they had been somewhat distorted by the media. He said he believes the U.S. had enough troops in Iraq at the start, "because we won the war in a very short three weeks."

But looking back, he said it would have been better to stop the looting that was widespread after Saddam was toppled. "One way to have stopped the looting would have been to have more troops on the ground," Bremer said. " That's a retrospective wisdom of mine, looking backwards. I think there are enough troops there now for the job we are doing."

The White House says the president accepted the judgment of U.S. military commanders that they had all the troops they needed.

Change In Strategy

Today's Bush speech in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was originally to focus on the issue of medical liability reform. In a shift of strategy, the White House decided the president needed to stay focused on Iraq and the economy.

A standard stump speech by Mr. Bush is expected later in the day in Michigan when he addresses a rally at Oakland Community College in Farmington Hills.

By traveling today to Pennsylvania and Michigan, the president is once again reaching out to two states he lost in 2000, but has aggressively targeted for victory this year.

Today marks his 39th visit as president to Pennsylvania and 22nd stop in Michigan. Together they have 38 electoral votes, 14 percent of the 270 needed for election.
--Mark Knoller

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.

As Kerry spends the next two days holed up at the Inverness Hotel in Englewood, Colorado for debate prep, his campaign is probably hoping he remembers yesterday's lesson: Read exactly what is prepared for you by your staff.

Tuesday, Kerry's campaign promised reporters the candidate would start his town hall meeting in Tipton, Iowa by mentioning Paul Bremer's comments about the number of troops in Iraq. In fact, the campaign was so ready to go with this that they even handed out the exact text of what Kerry was going to say.

"Today, we learned that the top official who was in charge of Iraq after the invasion - Paul Bremer - now believes we made two mistakes in Iraq," Kerry was to say, according to the prepared remarks. "One, we didn't deploy enough troops to get the job done; and two, we didn't contain the violence and looting after Saddam was ousted.

"Folks, for weeks, I have been asking George Bush to be as candid as he can with the American people. But maybe he is simply incapable of facing the truth. It's now clear that everyone knew the facts about Iraq. But the President's stubbornness prevented him from learning about these mistakes and getting it right," the text continued.

Here's what came out of Kerry's mouth, however: "Just today we have learned that America's top official, who was responsible for managing the Coalition Provisional Authority, has acknowledged two big mistakes - those are two they've acknowledged. Number one - but they're not insignificant - Paul Bremer, who was running the Coalition Provisional Authority, admitted we didn't deploy enough troops to get the job done and two we didn't contain the violence after Saddam Hussein was deposed," Kerry said before he digressed for 51 seconds.

He finally interrupted himself and tried to salvage what he could, saying, "I can run down a - I'm not going to spend all my time on it today. But there are a long list of mistakes and I'm glad that Paul Bremer has finally admitted at least two of them and the president of the United States needs to tell the truth to the American people."

Realizing that Kerry "didn't hit it," according to one aide, the campaign hastily set up a press conference following the Tipton town hall meeting, to give the candidate one more chance to deliver the concisely written statement, which he did.
--Steve Chaggaris

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.

Win, lose, or draw – depending on whose spin you buy and which poll you cite – John Edwards came out swinging in his first ever one-on-one debate. Often criticized for not being a strong enough Democratic attack dog, Edwards set the tone for the often-heated debate in his opening remarks. "Mr. Vice President, you are not being straight with the American people," he charged, in his first response to Cheney's defense of the administration's Iraq policy.

While he did balance his accusations with a bit of token Edwards' hope and optimism in his closing remarks, the senator mainly pointed fingers at the administration for failed policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea, and here at home on issues like jobs and healthcare.

"How'd you think I did, Miles?" was among the first questions posed by Edwards following the debate to campaign adviser Miles Lackey, according to a backstage source. It's unclear what Lackey's response was, but a pool report on Sen. Kerry's end of a post-debate phone call to Edwards indicates the Democratic candidate for president was pleased. "You held them accountable. You did a great, great job," Kerry told his running mate.

"Did I fight hard enough for you?" an enthusiastic Edwards asked a crowd of about 2,000 who waited in the cold for hours to hear the senator at the late-night rally. "I was there tonight to fight for you, John [Kerry] is fighting for you-that's what this fight is about and we're also fighting to make sure the American people hear the truth, right?" he continued as someone in the crowd yelled out, "Sock it to 'em!"

"He was very aggressive," his spokesman Mark Kornblau said after the debate, but quickly added that Edwards "doesn't see this as a fight between politicians. He doesn't care about that. He cares about fighting for the country and he takes that very personally."

A "fight between politicians" played out when Cheney pulled a few punches of his own in a less than subtle reference to Edwards' political ambitions and when pointing out Edwards' no-show record as a U.S. senator.

Responding to Cheney's memorable line that debate night was the first time he'd met the senator, Edwards told rally-goers this inaccurate assessment was "continuing this pattern" of deceit. Citing two occasions where the two had met, Edwards reported his wife approached Cheney on stage after the debate. "She reminded him about the truth and come November we're going to remind him the American people do not want four more years of George W. Bush."

Edwards also took a jab at moderator Gwen Ifill's omission of healthcare from the debate's itinerary. "I was glad to be able to get a chance tonight although it took a little work, to be able to lay out our healthcare plan, which America needs to hear," he said before moving back to the competition. Attempting to paint Cheney as a politician void of hope for the future, Edwards concluded his rally, "So since we didn't hear any of it from the vice president tonight, since we didn't hear any from the president last Thursday night, how 'bout if we hear a little bit tonight." He continued just before midnight, "Hope is on the way."
--Bonney Kapp

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY

There was not a shortage of opinion about who won the debate last night. Each party flooded email accounts and phone banks to offer analysis just minutes after the first question was asked. Reporters on the floor at the filing center were cornered by partisan spinners before the candidates had even finished talking. Everyone in Cleveland had something to say about the debate except for one person: Dick Cheney.

Unlike Sen. Edwards, who spoke to crowds early on Tuesday, the first words heard out the vice president's mouth came after he had sat down on stage across form his opponent. Similarly, those for those looking for reaction or reflection from the vice president on the event may have a long wait.

Minutes after the debate ended, Cheney, his wife Lynne Cheney and granddaughter Kate motorcaded across town to address a crowd of well-wishers and supporters. Accompanied by pounding dance music, Cheney stood grinning widely as he was introduced by Lynne to the ecstatic crowd.

"There is just one word for it: awesome!" Lynne told the audience as they waved placards and cheered wildly. "Your welcome tonight has given us the energy we need to push through to victory!"

When the vice president got behind the podium, those in the audience looking for a self-examination of the debate by Cheney were disappointed. He hardly made mention of the contest and did not reference his opponent. The sterile comments focused more on the important of the proceedings.

"These debates are always interesting. You spend a great deal of time thinking about them and getting ready for them. It is a highly important part of the process," was all he said, exhausting the topic.

It was less an attempt to avoid the subject than it was to refocus the attention back on the overall race. "The important thing, of course, is that four weeks from tonight we will select the next president of the United States," he quickly reminded the crowd.

For days before the debate, the Bush/Cheney campaign stressed the fact that the debate on Tuesday was not about Edwards vs. Cheney. It continued afterwards as the vice president spent much more time on how the importance of re-electing the President Bush.

He stressed the importance of the work the crowd of volunteers was doing. "Every phone call, every time you ring a doorbell, every dollar that is contributed, every hour of volunteer time is absolutely crucial to making this a success."

"Now we all know how close the election was. We're going to try to do better this time," he said promising to hold up his end of the deal.

To set an example, the vice president jetted off to Florida on Wednesday morning for several days of campaigning in the state that was so crucial in the 2000 election.
--Josh Gross

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