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
It was clear by their answers to the very first question that both candidates came to Wednesday night's debate with the intention of drawing rhetorical blood. We heard some of the harshest verbal attacks of the campaign.
The sharpest slam from the president was his effort to label Kerry a big "tax and spend" liberal without using those words. He told Kerry: "You know there's a mainstream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank. As a matter of fact your record is such, that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts."
The president also came armed to ridicule Kerry's plan to provide health care coverage to America's uninsured. "I want to remind people listening tonight that a plan is not a litany of complaints. And a plan is not to lay out programs that you can't pay for." Mr. Bush said Kerry's plan to let everybody buy into the same health care plan that senators and congressmen get would cost the government $7,700 per family. And that, said the president, would cost the nation $5 trillion over 10 years. "It's an empty promise. It's called bait and switch."
But the president fell into a verbal trap when accused by Kerry of having once said he doesn't really think much about Osama bin Laden. "Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations." Within minutes, the Kerry campaign was out with documentation that in a 2002 exchange with reporters, Mr. Bush had said of bin-Laden: "I truly am not that concerned about him." Mr. Bush made the statement in arguing that the war on terrorism doesn't succeed or fail on whether bin Laden is captured or killed.
Of course, the shoe was on the other foot when Mr. Bush caught Kerry in an undeniable misstatement. Kerry was answering a question about affirmative action and denounced Mr. Bush for never having met with leaders of the NAACP or the Congressional Black Caucus. Mr. Bush said Kerry got it wrong. "Well, first of all, it is just not true that I haven't met with the Black Congressional Caucus. I met with the Black Congressional Caucus at the White House."
The president was correct. He met with caucus members on February 25, 2004. The group demanded and received a meeting to voice their concerns that Mr. Bush was not intervening to prop up the Haitian government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
At one point in the debate, the president responded to a question about the political polarization of the nation. He said his "biggest disappointment in Washington is how partisan the town is." He said, "Washington is a tough town ...with a lot of entrenched special interests." Last night, the same could be said of Tempe, Ariz. — the debate host city.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.
"I asked my husband to get this third debate. And he did," said Teresa Heinz-Kerry to the crowd of thousands gathered at the Tempe Park Beach. "And I asked, 'If you would get the triple crown,' then we would ask you to give us a grand slam on Nov. 2," she continued, mixing her sports metaphors.
Kerry, however, neglected to brag about his performance as he did after the first two debates, perhaps in an attempt to exert a bit of modesty. At the beginning of his remarks, he wondered aloud where his daughter Vanessa was. It turns out she stayed behind at the debate site to do interviews. "She's trying to convince them that I won," he quipped slyly.
On Thursday, Kerry is in Las Vegas to speak to the AARP before he jets to Des Moines for a rally there. Over the next several days, the campaign will focus on seven battleground states: Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida with a goal of hitting three to four media markets per day. Not only will Kerry be dropping in to most of those states but he will also spend a bit more time on bus tours through Wisconsin on Friday and Ohio on Saturday.
The schedule for the final ten days still remains fluid, aides say, depending on where they think they need to focus their energy. Campaign officials continue to insist they're focused on the 15 battleground states where they're running TV ads, but given the fact there's only 19 days left, there's a pretty good chance that he won't actually visit all 15.
What is certain, however, is that after two weeks of a stop-and-start campaign schedule due to debate preparations, for the final stretch "there will be very little waste of time" and a schedule with "more intensity," spokesman David Wade says.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.
Edwards stuck to the same speech at all three of his Oregon events preceding Wednesday night's presidential debate. At his town hall meeting and two rallies across the battleground state, Edwards predicted victory for his running mate and picked up on a comment made by Bush Treasury Secretary John Snow, who indicated that the inherited surplus and the jobs lost over the last four years were "myths."
"I wonder if the five million Americans who've lost their healthcare coverage in the last four years, I wonder if that's a myth. I wonder if the fact that Oregon has the second highest unemployment rate in the country—I wonder if that's a myth," the senator wondered rhetorically at his town hall in Medford. "Here's the truth, come November the 2nd, we're going to send George Bush out of town, and that will not be a myth," he concluded to rousing applause.
Anticipating the Bush/Cheney campaign's debate spin to include the phrase "mixed messages," Edwards defended Kerry's stance on Iraq and told voters at a Eugene rally on the campus of the University of Oregon, "It may sound like a mixed message to [George Bush and Dick Cheney] because it's the truth, and it may seem that way to them, but the American people deserve the truth."
Following an impassioned rally in downtown Portland, Edwards headed to the Hilton hotel to watch the final debate, reemerging minutes after its conclusion to appear on CBS News and Nightline. As Edwards waited for the questions, lights and camera pointed at him, he noted it would be a "long night." Indeed, the candidate flew to Sioux City, Iowa, and arrived at his hotel just before 2am.
Spokesman Mark Kornblau foresees more of the same to come, "very long days, a quicker pace, and more stops" in the final push to the election. He also anticipates the Republicans will "revert back to their old playbook of throwing every nasty, false, and personal attack out against John Kerry and engage in character assassination. We're ready."
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY
Mrs. Cheney's words came late into the evening, after a debate watching party outside of Pittsburgh. Vice President Dick Cheney first thanked a crowd of volunteers and stressed the importance of their work. Like the debate, his pre-debate speech focused mostly on domestic issues.
Returning to the stage post-debate, the Veep complimented the president's performance, calling it "superb job." But it was Lynne who caused the greatest stir when she criticized Kerry's reference to Mary Cheney, the vice president's gay daughter.
"The only thing I can conclude is that this is not a good man, not a good man. And of course, I'm speaking as a mom, a pretty indignant mom," she said with a hint of venom in her voice. "This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick."
The day had begun hours earlier, somewhat behind schedule, on the bus. Minutes after the group of motorcade vehicles got started, a white tail deer ran across the highway, causing two state troopers on motorcycles to swerve and crash off the road. Turns out injuries were minor and the bus ride began again. Aside from a few raindrops at an outdoor rally, the day proceeded very smoothly, as Cheney made sure not to say or do anything that would upstage the president's debate.
The vice president was joined on this trip by his wife, daughter Liz and granddaughters Elizabeth and Grace. The first stop of their red, white and blue adorned bus was the Crossroad Dinor restaurant in Edinboro for an extended day of meeting voters in western Pennsylvania.
Both the vice president and his wife shook hands and signed photographs for the nearly 30 patrons gathered for coffee and breakfast. His cheeks reddened briefly as a woman called out, "You're much better looking in person." Although the event was not on the 'official' schedule, the media and many locals seemed to know the stop was coming.
However, everyone, including Cheney's staff, was surprised when the buses pulled over again in front of an elementary school within blocks of a scheduled town hall stop. Students had gathered to wave at the motorcade, but the vice president could not resist the chance to say hello. The kids squealed loudly and he beamed widely as he shook their little hands.
Then it was off to the event in Meadville where the vice president was again joined onstage by his wife. Although he spoke mostly on foreign policy and the war on terror, the evening debate was also on his mind. "Now, there's going to be a debate tonight in Arizona. The president is ready. He's loaded for bear," he said using a hunting analogy. "I'm sure he'll do a great job, just like he did last Friday night."
Afterwards, the motorcade headed toward the Joseph P. King Farm and Market so the Cheney family could participate in some fall traditions. The vice president hoisted his granddaughters up to his chest so they could get a better view of the animals in a barn. "A goat ate my shirt!" one yelled happily to a Secret Service agent nearby.
The group then headed to campaign rally at Penn Colony which, when not holding political events, doubles as a Renaissance Fair. The crowd went nuts as the vice president hammered his Democratic opponents, even as a light rain began to fall.