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

It's another re-election drive on the Bush campaign bus Friday as the President attends two rallies in Wisconsin. It is a state he lost in 2000 by the third narrowest margin of any state and he has been aggressively targeting Wisconsin this year. This visit is his 15th visit to the state as President and his seventh this year. It is also his 15th campaign bus trip of the year.

Before leaving the White House, the president attends the swearing-in ceremony of his new CIA Director Porter Goss, who won Senate confirmation Tuesday.

On Thursday, a planeload of National Guard and Army Reserve personnel on their way to duty in Iraq got a personal send-off from President Bush. After a campaign rally in Bangor, Maine Thursday afternoon, Mr. Bush delayed his departure to await the arrival of a chartered MD-11 aircraft carrying nearly 300 servicemen and women. They were en route to the Persian Gulf from Fort Bragg via Germany and Kuwait for deployment in Iraq for 18 to 24 months.

The president boarded the aircraft to shake hands and exchange greetings with the men and women all dressed in desert fatigues. He walked up and down the aisles of the aircraft, and could be heard offering his thanks for their service and saying, "I'm proud of you." At one point, he got on the public address system of the plane to again say thanks: "I appreciate your service to the country. I appreciate being in the presence of such fine men and women. May God bless you all. May God keep you safe. May God bless America, as well. Thank you all."

Reporters were told that all the soldiers aboard the plane had been given absentee election ballots in the day or two before their departure. Many still had the ballots with them.

Speaking of Iraq, the issue comprises a significant portion of nearly every campaign speech Mr. Bush gives, including the one Thursday in Bangor. He spoke of his meeting earlier in the day at the White House with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. "We're going to help this government in Iraq," said Mr. Bush. "We'll help them ... build their troops. We'll help them build their infrastructure." And he again blasted rival John Kerry's position on Iraq, saying "Incredibly, this week, my opponent said he would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today."

But that is a misrepresentation of what Kerry really said. In his speech at New York University on Monday, what he said was this: "Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, that was not in and of itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction that we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: we have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

Luckily, Mr. Bush also had praise on Thursday for another John Kerry: not his democratic rival, but a man by the same name who runs Catholic Charities in Falmouth, Maine. That John Kerry shares the president's view that the federal government should provide funding for social service programs run by churches and other religious groups. "That's one John Kerry I agree with," said Mr. Bush to applause at his rally.
--Mark Knoller

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.

John Kerry is in Philadelphia on Friday for his final full day of campaigning before beginning several days of debate preparations. And he took the opportunity again to criticize President Bush on Iraq. At a Temple University speech, Kerry laid out the argument that the war on terror is separate from the war in Iraq, contrary to what the President has been saying all along.

"Instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan the President rushed into a new war in Iraq. That was the wrong choice," said Kerry. "Iraq is now what it was not before the war - a haven for terrorists. George Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority. I would have made Osama bin Laden the priority."

During his speech, he unveiled a seven-part strategy for the war on terror, basically cobbling together proposals and arguments he's been making for months: "build a stronger military and intelligence capability", move to "deny terrorists the deadly weapons they seek", "stop terrorist financing", "make homeland security a priority", "deny sanctuary and recruitment for terrorists", "promote freedom and democracy in the Muslim world", and "rebuild and lead strong alliances."

Later Friday, Kerry flies to Boston where he will spend a couple of days before jetting to Iowa County, Wisconsin for four days of debate preps. He and his advisers will isolate themselves at a resort about 40 miles from Madison, but the campaign is keeping the details of how he'll prepare under wraps.

"We decided on this that the main event is center stage and behind the curtain is less entertaining," Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters on the campaign plane Thursday.

He did add, however, that Kerry's focus over the last couple of weeks on Iraq is setting up the arguments he's going to make during the Sept. 30 debate.

"You're witnessing it. We're defining what the parameters of this debate are as we go into it by how we shape the debate on an issue like Iraq or like we shape the debate on the war on terror," said McCurry.

"These are fundamentally important questions that certainly are going to be at the heart of the debate next week. This is debate prep. We're doing it."
--Steve Chaggaris

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.

Add "Kerry stand-in" to John Edwards' resume. The Democratic candidate for president was supposed to have been the headliner at a Davenport, Iowa, town hall-style meeting on Thursday, but Edwards went to bat for his ill running mate instead.

"Let me say first of all, John was going to be here today," Edwards began, referencing his running mate's strained voice. "It's actually started to get a little better as of this morning, but we wanted to make sure he had a good, strong voice for that debate next week, didn't we?"

Often criticized for having little foreign policy experience, Edwards began the terrorism-focused event by airing a list of perceived failures in Iraq. "They told us they had a plan. Not true. They told us that there were enough troops to secure the country and security it quickly. Not True. They told us this war was going to pay for itself. Not True," he said with the receptive crowd joining in on the "not trues."

"Let me say this in language I know people here in Iowa will understand, because I've spent enough time here to know you'll understand it: George Bush made this mess and he can't fix it," Edwards continued to enthusiastic applause.

Unfazed that the top of the Democratic ticket was a no-show, the audience punctuated every one of Edwards' points with applause and cheers. At least one in the audience seemed pleased by the last minute switch. "We are so blessed to have you here," began one man during the event's question and answer period. Remembering his support of Edwards during caucus time, the Iowan said "I said you know what? That guy can do it. And then Kerry got in and I'm very pleased that he picked a good man like yourself."

After the town hall, Edwards subbed for Kerry at a Cedar Rapids rally, where about 2,000 showed up for the running mate. The arena may have looked packed on television, but sections not in line with cameras were completely barren. "Of course" the turn out was expected to be higher for a Kerry rally said one Iowa staffer, who quickly qualified his statement by adding that the Vice President's Iowa rallies only draw crowds of 1,000.

Edwards spoke to the crowd for a Kerry-esque half an hour longer than his usual 20-25 minute standard stump and finished to a shower of confetti that dropped from the ceiling for a good photo-op. "That's what happens when you spend money on an event," one staffer joked.

Although the turnout may have been smaller than expected, those who showed up were satisfied. Lisa Kuzela, a Cedar Rapids resident donning Kerry buttons, said having Edwards substitute was a pleasant surprise. "I love Kerry so much, but I was really excited when I heard Edwards was coming because I've never heard him speak in person," she said. Kuzela has attended two Kerry events and concluded that Edwards is "just so inspirational."
--Bonney Kapp

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY

As the November 2 election draws nearer, it is becoming obvious to anyone who listens to Vice President Cheney that he's developed a remarkably direct strategy in his attacks on Sen. Kerry.

The Republicans have come to realize that one of the most effective weapons against the Democratic candidate is the candidate himself. Accordingly, the core of the vice president's argument against the election of John Kerry is redirecting the senator's own words back at him. Cheney's speech to a crowd in St. Joseph, Mo., on Thursday was a perfect example of this tactic.

Cheney either quoted or referenced earlier speeches by Kerry seven times. Six of these examples he has used in previous stump speeches but new to the speech was a reaction to the comments Kerry made earlier in the day.

Concerning the visit by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi to the United States and his assessment on the war, Kerry said, "The prime minister and the president are here, obviously, to put their best face on the policy."

Cheney was again quick to react. "I must say I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Sen. Kerry showed for this man of courage when he rushed to hold a press conference and attack the prime minister, a man America must stand beside to defeat the terrorists," he told the crowd. "John Kerry is trying to tear down all the good that has been accomplished, and his words are destructive to our effort in Iraq and in the global war on terror."

These rapid responses are now standard operating procedure. These similar rejoinders are now central to Cheney's stump speech:

Kerry's speech in New York on his Iraq policy earlier in the week. Cheney's response: "Yet despite all the harsh rhetoric, Senator Kerry endorsed many of the same goals President Bush has been pursuing in Iraq for months."

In the same speech, Kerry's claim that if he were president, the countries allies would speak with a single voice. Cheney's response: "That seems a little odd coming from a guy who doesn't speak with one voice himself."

Kerry voting against the $87 billion bill to further fund expenses in Iraq. Cheney's response: "At first Sen. Kerry said he didn't really oppose the funding. He both supported and opposed it. He said, and I quote, 'I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.' That certainly clears things up."

Kerry's assertion that his views on the bill were complex. Cheney's response: "Lately he's been saying he's proud that he and John Edwards voted no, and explains his decision was 'complicated.' But funding American troops in combat should never be a complicated question."

Kerry's recent speech to members of the National Guard saying the mark of a good leader is being truthful. Cheney's response: "True leadership is standing for your principles regardless of your audience, or who you've just hired as a political advisor."

In the same speech, Kerry's promise to always be straight with the American people. Cheney's response: "That means when the headlines are good he's for the war, and when his poll numbers are bad, he's against it. These are not times for leaders who shift with the political winds, saying one thing one day and another the next."

Most candidates would love an eager audience that listens with rapt attention. Too bad John Kerry's includes Republicans looking for more ammunition.
--Josh Gross