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 Bush campaign target of the day is Minnesota. The president is back on his campaign bus taking a re-election drive through the southeastern part of the state.

His 12th visit to Minnesota as president and fifth this year takes him to political events in St. Cloud, Blaine and Rochester.

Candidate Bush lost Minnesota in 2000, but by less than 2 ½ percent of the vote.

And the Bush campaign is making an aggressive effort to win the state and its 10 electoral votes. A new statewide poll by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune shows the president gaining ground on John Kerry's lead in the state.

The survey shows that "likely voters" are split between Kerry and Mr. Bush by a margin of 50-to-41 percent. That reflects a 3 percent increase for the president from March, the last time this poll was conducted.

More than anything else, the president's visits to the state are meant to energize his grassroots operations to get supporters registered. And Mr. Bush reminds his activists to include independents and "discerning Democrats" – a phrase used by Dwight Eisenhower in his bid for a second term in 1956.

In fact, it sounds like Eisenhower adopted the philosophy of "compassionate conservatism" nearly half a century before Mr. Bush.

Addressing the Republican National Convention 48 years ago, Eisenhower said this: "Republicans have proved that it is possible for a government to have a warm, sensitive concern for the everyday needs of people, while steering clear of the paternalistic 'Big-Brother-is-watching-you' kind of interference."

Everything old is new again.

Today marks President Bush's 14th campaign bus trip this year. A look at the list below is a revealing blueprint of the states the Bush campaign re-election strategy deems most important:

Bush Campaign Bus Trips, 2004

1. May 3 - Indiana, Michigan

2. May 4 - Ohio

3. May 7 - Iowa, Wisconsin

4. July 9 - Pennsylvania

5. July 14 - Wisconsin

6. July 31 - Ohio, West Virginia, Pa.

7. Aug. 10 - Florida (panhandle)

8. Aug. 18 – Wisc., Minnesota

9. Aug. 28 - Ohio

10. Sept. 4 - Ohio, Pa.

11. Sept. 7 - Missouri

12. Sept. 10 - W. Va., Ohio

13. Sept. 13 - Michigan

14. Today – Minn.

White House Verbatim on the Disputed Guard Documents

Here's a couple of excerpts from spokesman Scott McClellan at yesterday's White House news briefing about the documents broadcast by CBS News, whose veracity continues to be questioned:

"These are old, recycled attacks, and the Democrats have made it clear that they intend to try to tear down the President and throw the kitchen sink at us because they can't run on John Kerry's record, and because they see him falling behind in the polls. And that's what this is about."

Asked if the president agrees with the first lady that the documents are forgeries, McClellan sidestepped:

"Well, Mrs. Bush was expressing her view. The view of the White House is that these are serious questions that have been raised and they ought to be looked into. Many media organizations are looking into them as we speak. They're interviewing additional experts. They have raised additional questions about it, and those are serious questions that ought to be looked into fully."

McClellan said the White House was not conducting its own investigation of the documents.
--Mark Knoller

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.

"I am absolutely taking the gloves off," Kerry told Don Imus on Wednesday morning, though if he meant he was going to fight dirty, there's yet to be any indication of that.

Aides say that in Thursday's speech to the National Guard convention, Kerry will continue to lay out his differences with Bush without mentioning the questions surrounding the president's service in the Guard. It's worth noting that Kerry will be accompanied by retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who did call the president "incompetent" in his last outing with Kerry a few weeks ago in Tacoma, Wash.

Kerry's focus, however, will be on military reform, "so that we never face a situation like today that half the Guard are on active duty and that they are overextended," according to a campaign official. Kerry will also again accuse Bush of misleading Americans on Iraq and say that he "needs to tell the truth about Iraq," the official said.

Kerry did unveil a new line of attack on President Bush's economic record Wednesday, labeling his tenure as "the excuse presidency: never wrong, never responsible, never to blame," at a speech to the Detroit Economic Club.

The senator was fairly well received at the Detroit speech, considering he was delivering a heavily pro-average American speech to a group of executives and businesspeople.

In one interesting moment when he directly connected with his not-so-average-American audience, Kerry strayed from his prepared remarks and said that well-off folks like themselves and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who introduced Kerry, didn't need President Bush's tax cut.

"I'm here with my friend Bob Rubin. And if people like Bob Rubin and me and many of you here today did not get that tax cut, as much as we like it, and instead that money was invested in health care and education and job creation for the great middle class of our country, we would be stronger as a country today."

After Kerry speaks to the National Guard in Las Vegas today – his sixth day in Nevada this year – he heads to Albuquerque (his seventh visit to New Mexico) for a rally tonight and a town hall meeting tomorrow. Later on Friday, he will hold another town hall in Aurora, Colo., (his fourth trip to that state) before heading to Boston for the weekend.
--Steve Chaggaris

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.

In Parkersburg, W.Va., Wednesday, John Edwards held a town hall meeting geared towards jobs and the economy with invited residents affected by local companies shutting their doors.

In his opening remarks, Edwards noted the president's visit to the town just days before. "George Bush rolls through town telling you how great the economy's doing, everybody's doing great. Three days later, Walker [Systems] shuts down, right?" he said, referring to a local plant that just announced it was closing after 40 years. "This is not the way it's supposed to be in this country," he continued.

When the candidate opened the floor to questions, the issue of jobs was not the focus, however. Of the five questions asked, three were on Iraq. Barbara Haught began by admitting she was invited to the event because she recently lost her job after 26 years. "But my son called me this morning from Iraq and I told him I was coming here today and he told me if I had a chance to please ask you a question," she said.

Haught's son, Brian McGee,is a technical staff sergeant with the U.S. Air Force; his convoy came under fire in Iraq five days ago and three of his fellow soldiers were killed. "He asks you, what do you and Kerry intend to do about armoring our vehicles?"

"When men and women are sent into battle to defend and protect the United States of America, they deserve every tool possible to keep them safe, to be successful, to make sure that we win," Edwards responded. He did not address his Senate vote against the president's request for $87 billion, which the administration claimed was for exactly this purpose.

En route to his evening rally in Athens, Ohio, Edwards' motorcade headed to three "off the record" stops in Ohio and West Virginia. The candidate stopped by a tavern at lunchtime to talk with locals about jobs and healthcare, held a short rally from the back of a pickup truck outside a steelworkers' union hall and toured a teen center at a community center in Ohio's poorest county.

According to the campaign, Edwards is fulfilling "one of his roles" as Kerry's running mate: to connect with small town voters, which he clearly did at Harmar Tavern in Marietta, Ohio. When urged to try the bologna sandwich by a couple of elderly patrons, Edwards confided, "Bologna's not bad; I had a lot of bologna sandwiches growing up."

Edwards' day culminated at a rally on Ohio University's campus, where the senator delivered his stump speech to a crowd of some 7,000 – not including the large group of protesters outside the rally, loudly chanting "Four more years."

While hammering the Bush tax cuts, Edwards acknowledged the protesters' presence and quipped that the tax relief benefited multimillionaires, "including those folks that are chanting back there, right?"

"What do you think? Four more years of tax cuts for multimillionaires? Four more years of high gasoline prices and record profits for oil companies?" Edwards asked the booing crowd.

"Four more years of a president and vice president who stand for the oil companies, the drug companies, and the insurance companies of America? Here's what all of us know-we can do better and we will do better with John Kerry as our president."

Ohio University sophomore (and accused multi-millionaire) Matthew Smith was among those protesters told to keep moving by police securing the rally site. "He told us to leave because it was private property," Smith said. "We all go to this school, we all pay for this school. How are they telling us it's private property? Isn't that a violation of our first amendment rights, freedom to assemble, freedom of speech?"

Edwards continues his bus tour through the battleground state of Ohio Thursday with a rally in Portsmouth, the same town where the president spoke less than a week ago.
--Bonney Kapp

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY

Misplaced in the media tempest of last week's "wrong choice" speech in Des Moines were the vice president's comments on the Russian school hostage siege and killing. He was quick to draw the tragedy in Baslan into the fraternity of cities affected by terrorism.

"Well, they'll probably come after us more than anybody else just because of who we are and what we believe, but just look at what has transpired around the world since 9/11 with the attacks in Madrid, in Casablanca, in Mombassa, in Istanbul, in Riyadh, in Bali, in Jakarta, and most recently, of course, in Baslan, in Russia, this week where they slaughtered hundreds of school children," he said last Tuesday.

Of all the members of the Bush administration who speak publicly on a regular basis, Vice President Cheney is one who usually connects the al Qaeda attacks on 9/11 to other terrorist attacks around the world as well as to the war in Iraq.

"We don't yet know exactly what the relationship is between the groups that launched that attack and whether or not al Qaeda is involved. That jury is still out on all of that. The Russians seem to think there may be some connections there," he continued last week.

Drawing a parallel between the attacks against American interests and a decades-long separatist movement in Russia may raise some eyebrows. The vice president looked to clarify the comments on Monday during a town hall meting in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Asked about Russia's reaction and its willingness to cooperate with our war on terror, the vice president responded, "I think a lot of our European friends have been somewhat ambivalent about this whole proposition with respect to how we deal with these terrorist attacks. I think some had hoped that if the kept their heads down and stayed out of the line of fire, they wouldn't get hit."

He then added, "I think what happened in Russia now demonstrates pretty conclusively that everybody is a target. That Russia, of course, did not support us in Iraq, they did not get involved with sending troops there. They got hit anyway."

The Cheney campaign says the comments were intended to counter the argument that some countries made before the war in Iraq: that being part of the coalition might invite future attacks. Russia steered clear of any involvement in the war and yet the nation was still subject to terrorism.

Cheney's speeches over the last few weeks have been heavy with comments on the war on terrorism and his opinion that it truly a global war against "those who resort to terror to try achieve their political objectives." The horrible incident in Russia bolsters his argument, or so Cheney obviously believes.
--Josh Gross