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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


Before ending his United Nations campaign swing, President Bush has a final diplomatic get-together: a morning meeting with Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan on Wednesday.

Once viewed by the U.S. as a military opportunist who overthrew a civilian president, Musharraf is now warmly embraced as an ally in the War on Terrorism. If Osama bin-Laden is ever to be captured, U.S. officials think it will be with the help of Musharraf's forces. Musharraf is also being pressed by Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to contribute troops to the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq.

The meeting with Musharraf comes after Bush spoke to the U.N. on Tuesday, where the General Assembly proved to be a tough room for the President. He delivered his 35-minute speech in 26 minutes. It helped that not once during his speech did the representatives of the UN's 191 member nations interrupt Mr. Bush with applause.

The same lines about ousting Saddam and staying the course in Iraq always get Mr. Bush an eruption of thunderous cheers at his campaign rallies, but at the U.N. yesterday the response was dead silence.

Most of the UN members opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and their response to
Mr. Bush reflected that. He was received politely, but far from warmly. Yet it didn't stop the president from ardently defending his policies on Iraq. He said Iraq and Afghanistan are on the path to freedom and democracy. And he vowed that the U.S. "will stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes for freedom and security are fulfilled." He urged all U.N. member nations to do the same.

There was no applause either from John Kerry. He charged that Mr. Bush failed to level with the U.N. about the situation in Iraq. The president gave Kerry the verbal back of his hand, declaring that, "my opponent has taken so many different positions on Iraq that his statements are hardly credible at all."

In other news from Bush, though the U.S. government spends upwards of $40 billion dollars a year on intelligence- gathering, Bush said the CIA was only "guessing" when it painted a bleak picture of where Iraq might be headed. The worst-case scenario in the National Intelligence Estimate could be civil war. Bush was responding to a question about the NIE given him over the summer, parts of which were leaked to the New York Times last week.

The president made clear he doesn't put much stock in the CIA's analysis. "The CIA laid out several scenarios that said, life could be lousy, like could be okay, life could be better. And they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like. The Iraqi citizens are defying the pessimistic predictions. The Iraqi citizens are headed toward free elections. This government has been in place for a little over two months, and the Iraqi citizens are seeing a determined effort by responsible citizens to lead to a more hopeful tomorrow. And I am optimistic we'll succeed."
--Mark Knoller


Kerry on Wednesday spends a second day in Florida, making up for lost time (he had to cancel three trips because of the hurricanes) and taking the opportunity to skewer President Bush on Iraq, health care and Social Security.

On Wednesday, Kerry holds a town hall meeting in West Palm Beach where the focus will be on Social Security before he heads to another battleground state: Ohio. But Tuesday, while he intended to spend most of his time talking about health care at events in Jacksonville and Orlando, Iraq really became the focus as he also held an impromptu press conference – Kerry's first in 6 weeks.

Upon landing in Jacksonville, he spent a half hour talking to the press and all but two questions during the availability were about Iraq. During the event, Kerry repeated what were clearly new talking points about the issue.

Seven times throughout the news conference, Kerry used the word "reality" in reference to Bush's handling of Iraq saying, for instance, "the president needs to live in a world of reality, not in a world of fantasy spin" and that he "didn't talk reality to the United Nations" earlier in the day. In addition, he said Bush has lost "credibility" on the Iraq issue five times.

Later, during a rally at the home arena of the NBA's Orlando Magic, a scratchy-voiced Kerry teamed up with John Edwards for the first time since September 2 and mocked Bush's response to a reporter's question at the U.N. where the president slighted a National Intelligence Estimate on the condition of Iraq.

"The CIA laid out, uh," Kerry quoted Bush as the crowd erupted in cheers at Kerry's rendition of the president's verbal pause. "I just want to let you know I'm quotin'," he continued.

Kerry then read Bush's full quote: "'The CIA laid out uh – several scenarios and said life could be lousy, life could be OK, life could be better, and they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like."

"Does that make you feel safer?" Kerry asked the crowd. "Does that give you confidence that this president knows what he's talking about?"

On another note, during his town hall meeting earlier in Jacksonville, Kerry did make one unexpected scheduling announcement. In response to a question about if he will "fight for every vote in Florida," Kerry said, "We're going to be in Florida, I guarantee you – no if, ands and buts – I'll be here, I'll probably be here – I wouldn't be surprised if I wasn't here on November 2 and we'll be here fighting."
--Steve Chaggaris


At his morning economic policy speech in Cleveland, John Edwards used strong language to take a swipe at the Bush administration's economic policy, calling it "the most radical and dangerous economic agenda to hit our shores since socialism a century ago. Just like socialism, it corrupts the very nature of our democracy and our free enterprise system."

The Bush campaign promptly denounced the comment in an email, calling it "wild-eyed rhetoric," and Edwards' accusation didn't generate the kind of buzz that Vice President Cheney receives when he launches an attack.

The attention was instead on Edwards' next stop, a two-hour plane ride away. For the first time since August 2nd, Edwards campaigned in Florida. Regarded as one of the key states for winning the election, the candidate has cancelled two visits because of the hurricanes that struck the state.

"We're very happy to be here with you, happy too, you know to be back in Florida," Edwards began his Tampa town hall meeting. "Unfortunately those of us in North Carolina also know something about hurricanes," he empathized.

Describing the state as "ground zero" in deciding the outcome of the election, Edwards assured town hall goers that his campaign has "teams of people across FL, some of the best legal talent in the world" working to make sure there is not a repeat of the 2000 election in Florida. "We understand exactly what the Republicans understand—when you vote, when more people vote, we win. It's not all that complicated," he said.

Edwards also raked $1 million from Tampa donors at an evening fundraiser, where he spoke for 12 minutes. If there were any complaints on his brevity, Edwards did promise that he and his running mate would be "back and back and back in Florida."

Edwards' campaign plane then headed to Orlando, taxied, and parked a few yards from his running mate John Kerry's jet, where the two reunited for the first time since their midnight rally in Ohio on September 2nd.

In his 10-minute introduction, Edwards referred to Kerry as "a man of strength, courage, and conviction." When John Kerry took the microphone, he asked the supportive crowd, "Did I pick a great vice president of the United States?"

Kerry went on to joke how smart his running mate is because he didn't tell his young children "that he was coming down to be right near Disney World, that's how smart he is." And feeding in to those who think Edwards is too young and inexperienced to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, Kerry joked, "The difference between John Edwards and Dick Cheney – John Edwards is People Magazine's sexiest politician of the year. Dick Cheney is Halliburton's sexiest politician of the year."
--Bonney Kapp


The debate over Federal judicial nominations does not garner many headlines compared to issue like terrorism, taxes or health care, but it has been a constant focus of vice president Cheney's campaign speeches for months. Outside the attacks on John Kerry and the trumpeting of the Bush administration's successes in the war on terror, it is one of the few issues that the vice president addresses in nearly every speech.

Cheney preps the topic by ticking off an array of issues that usually draw excited agreement from the friendly Republican audiences – prohibiting partial birth abortion, supporting the Second Amendment and keeping "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Impressing upon the crowd that he and the President will defend their rights and values, he says "There shouldn't be any question about this -- and there wouldn't be if we had more reasonable judges on the federal bench."

He will chastise Democratic senators, including opponents John Kerry and John Edwards, for using the filibuster to block President Bush's nominations, often labeling these potential judges as "sensible" and "mainstream".

He finishes with a rally cry for the party faithful. Last week in Reno, Nevada, he said, "What the Democrats are doing is outrageous, and that's why we need to send more Republicans to the United States Senate."

The set up was no different on Tuesday, when the Cheney spoke in Wauseon, Ohio near Toledo. This time, however, the vice president called out Democrats and said he recognized the game they were playing. "They're hoping to wait the president out. But I've got news for them: that's not going to happen. We're going to win this election!"

If Cheney seems particularly fixated on the subject of judicial nominations it's because the topic has personally affected him. On July 20, 2004 the Senate Democrats used the filibuster to block the vote on Bill Myers, a friend to the Vice President.

"Recently, they used their obstructionist tactics to keep the Senate from voting on Bill Myers, a fine man from my part of the country," he told an audience in Ohio on Monday. "If Bill had made it to an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, he had the votes to be confirmed to the Ninth Circuit, which, by the way, is the circuit that decided we should not say 'under God' when we pledge allegiance to the flag."

The Ninth Circuit decides most of the federal appeals for the West Coast. Not only did it decide the recent Pledge of Allegiance case, but it has handled other high profile issues like assisted suicide, legal marijuana, and California's three strikes sentencing law. The Ninth Circuit also hears many cases concerning the environment, most recently granting an injunction to stop a deal between the government and the timber industry to harvest a forest in Oregon burned in a wildfire.

The debate over Myers' nomination in the Senate was especially bitter. As a lawyer from Idaho, he had frequent contact with mining and ranching groups, which drew particular criticism from environmentalist throughout the West. The nomination needed 60 votes to break the filibuster and Myers lost 53-44. Neither John Kerry nor John Edwards voted.

The vote brought criticism from the White House. President Bush issued a statement saying, "I continue to call on the minority in the Senate to stop playing politics with the American judicial system and give judicial nominees the fair treatment they deserve and the American people expect."

The vice president agrees. He often closes his argument with a punch line that always draws cheers form the crowd: If the Ninth Circuit is going to rule against saying "under God" in the Pledge, then it "sounds to me like they could use some new judges on the Ninth Circuit!"
--Josh Gross