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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


After a down day at his Texas ranch, the president is back on the campaign trail today with events in New Mexico and Colorado.

The day off gave Mr. Bush a chance to re-energize after a grueling week that included 10 political events during trips to eight states.

The week ahead has him doing at least 10 events in five states - and that doesn't count Friday or Saturday, for which the president's schedule has not yet been announced.

But this week includes the third and final presidential debate, to be held Wednesday night at Arizona State University in Tempe.

No matter how it comes out, both candidates will have just under three weeks left till Election Day in which to counter any adverse impressions left by the debates.

First thing today, President Bush addresses a rally in the town of Hobbs, N.M. It's in the southeast corner of the state and on the border with Texas.

New Mexico is a state he lost in 2000 by the smallest numerical margin of the election: just 366 votes. And with five electoral votes at stake, greater than the number that decided the election four years ago, the Bush campaign hopes to capture the state with the help of an aggressive grassroots operation to get out the vote.

Today marks Mr. Bush's 10th visit to New Mexico since taking office and his fifth this year.

Later in the day, it'll be Mr. Bush's ninth visit to Colorado, where he will attend a Denver fund-raiser for GOP Senate candidate Pete Coors (of beer fame) and then do a Republican rally at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison.

The president won Colorado in 2000 by nine percent of the vote and needs to keep its nine electoral votes in his win column. But the state ballot contains a proposition that Colorado's electoral votes be distributed proportionately instead of winner-take-all. If that had been in effect four years ago, Al Gore would have been elected.

Makes you think.

The Ad Wars

The Bush campaign is ridiculing something John Kerry said in yesterday's New York Times Magazine profile.

Kerry is quoted as saying, "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance."

Further, he seemed to liken the problem of terrorism to prostitution and illegal gambling.

That was all the Bush campaign had to hear. It quickly produced a new TV ad designed to make Kerry look foolish. Here's part of the announcer's text: "Terrorism? A nuisance? How can Kerry protect us when he doesn't understand the threat?"

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer was out with a rapid response saying, "Once again, the Bush campaign is insulting the basic intelligence of the public by resorting to tired and desperate tactics to cling to power."

And the Kerry campaign is out with a new ad of its own blasting the president for "failed leadership" and declaring "it's time for a new direction."

Three more weeks, and all we'll have on TV will be ads for deodorant and toothpaste.

Many can't wait.
--Mark Knoller


Kerry begins the week in the same state as President Bush - New Mexico - where he originally was expected to lay low for debate prep but has added a policy speech to his schedule.

His trip to the Land of Enchantment comes a day after Kerry, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton visited a Baptist church in Miami, where they were trying to fire up African-American voters.

Perhaps concerned about apathy and an African-American electorate that may not be totally sold on him, Kerry tried to reassure the crowd by adopting one of Bush's campaign slogans from 2000: "I'm a uniter, not a divider."

And while Kerry delivered a religion-inspired version of his stump speech, his surrogates were the ones who fired the most heated rhetoric against Bush-Cheney.

Former Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Fla., said Kerry is "fighting against liars and demons."

"Get ready Mr. Bush... on November 2, we're going to get up and go to the polls for the big payback," Sharpton declared, referencing the famous James Brown song, "The Payback."

And former college quarterback Jackson used a football metaphor to criticize Kerry's opponents saying, "It's hard to be a one-eyed quarterback... If you have one eye, you can't see the rest of the field... You can't protect yourself from the blindside... That's why Cheney couldn't see Edwards: he has one eye."

Today, Kerry is in Santa Fe where, after speaking about his energy proposals, he'll spend the next two days hunkered down at the Inn and Spa at Loretto where he will prepare for Wednesday's final debate with Bush.
--Steve Chaggaris


"Flip-flop" is a dirty word to most Democrats since Republicans have used it to define Sen. John Kerry's record and message as inconsistent. In the past, John Edwards has attempted to defend his running mate by claiming he has a "clear message," but on Friday Edwards uttered the word Democrats have grown to hate.

"For them to suggest that John Kerry flip-flops, you got to be kidding me," he said incredulously in a town hall meeting in Scranton, Pa. "These guys are the biggest flip-floppers on the face of the planet," he added while accusing the Bush administration of changing positions on a list of issues such as the Patient's Bill of Rights, the creation of a 9/11 commission and No Child Left Behind. "I mean it goes on and on and on," he continued.

At a Detroit rally after the second presidential debate, Edwards once again stuck up for his running mate, but didn't utter the "f" word. "The reason that George Bush appeared so defensive and so angry last night compared to the man who laid out a clear, positive vision for where America needs to go is they can't defend their record."

But it's Kerry's perceived flip-flops, pointed out by the vice president over the weekend, that are what the press and the pundits have seized upon during the course of the campaign. Making the Sunday morning talk show rounds, Edwards was asked by each of the five network program hosts about his running mate's apparent inconsistent views on Iraq.

"I think Saddam Hussein was a very serious threat. I stand by that, and that's why we stand behind our vote on the resolution," he told NBC's Tim Russert. "But I don't know how many times I can say the same thing: We did not authorize this president to make the mess that he's made."

Network news anchors aren't the only ones with tough questions. Seven-year-old Emily Weiss from Pierce Elementary School's "Kidwitness News," a Birmingham, Mich., cable program, conducted her own hard-hitting interview with the senator.

"Do you want to be president one day?" Emily asked, pushing the microphone to the senator for his response.

Smiling, Edwards answered, "Oh that's the hardest question. I want John Kerry to be president right now and I want to be vice president right now."
--Bonney Kapp


It's a phrase that is chanted at nearly every rally Vice President Cheney attends but until this weekend it was one he had never uttered himself: "flip-flop." Granted, it was done parroting an excited crowd member, but be sure that if the vice president is going to say it, he's going to back it up.

For weeks at rallies and town hall meetings, Cheney has counted off examples of issues he believes casts Sen. Kerry as being confused, hesitant or too liberal, much to the delight of the normally friendly crowds. Since the Republican convention, these instances have always been echoed by chants of "flip-flop" from the audience.

At rally for former Bush Cabinet secretary and Senate candidate Mel Martinez on Saturday, things were no different. Cheney began with a backhanded compliment directed at his opponent and their debate last week.

"I don't want to criticize my opponent because Sen. Edwards had an awfully difficult job. It's hard to defend John Kerry's positions when nobody is quite sure what they are."

A few moments later, the vice president seemed almost excited in wanting to return to his favorite subject: John Kerry's perceived indecision on Iraq.

Referring to Kerry's declarations on Iraq during the previous night's presidential debate, Cheney said, "The statements are designed to hide the fact he still can't figure out where he stands. Coming over this morning, I reviewed the debated transcript of last night's debate and it's fascinating."

He continued, "On page 5, it says, 'Well let me tell you straight up,' this is Senator Kerry speaking, 'I've never changed my mind about Iraq. I do believe that Saddam Hussein is a threat. I always believe he was a threat.'"

"On page 12, two questions later, 'The president has been preoccupied by Iraq where there wasn't a threat.'"

The vice president seemed almost too thrilled by this discovery to articulate a response.

"That's unbelievable. It's uh, it's yeah, it's mind-boggling," he stuttered. "In the course of one debate, 'Is Iraq a threat or is Iraq not a threat?' He's got both positions, say within a few minutes there last night."

He quickly regained his focus. "The fact of the matter is, this nation can not afford a president who sends mixed singles to our troops, to our friends and to our enemies. The Iraqis people need to know that America will always keep its promises. The terrorists need to know that we will not cut and run. And our men and women in uniform need to know we will honor there service and sacrifice by completing the mission."

Look for the vice president to continue with this example as the days until the election wind down. What may be more "mind boggling" is not that John Kerry actually said what he did, but that he has given the vice president such good material for the final three weeks.
--Josh Gross

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