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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


It is back on the campaign bus Monday as President Bush takes another re-election drive through Ohio. The trip is his 26th visit to the Buckeye State, the 13th this year and reflects the importance Mr. Bush places on keeping Ohio in his win column. He won the state in 2000 by just over 3.5 percent of the vote.

But during his watch, Ohio has lost over 200,000 manufacturing jobs. And last month another 11,800 jobs were lost as the state's unemployment rate spiked to 6.3%, well over the national average of 5.4%. That's the factor Democrats are hoping will push the state toward John Kerry. To counter, Mr. Bush has two campaign events in Ohio: Springfield and West Chester.

In news about the debates, it was a weekend of bike riding and debate preparations for the President in Crawford, Texas, his 39th visit to the central Texas ranch. He engaged in strategy sessions with top political aides and took part in four hours of practice debates. The role of John Kerry was played by his Senate colleague, New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg.

White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett engaged in an unabashed effort to low-ball expectations for Mr. Bush and portray Kerry as a master debater: "Well, Senator Kerry's been preparing his whole life for this moment. He was an all-star debater in prep school. He was an all-star debater in (the) Ivy League. He was 20 years in the most august debating society in the world, in the United States Senate. He had the epic battles and debates with Bill Weld (1996 Senate Race). He is a very seasoned debater. President Bush has had his own debates and has held his own- and I think we can expect him to do the same on Thursday."

Hold his own? Not exactly high praise from a top aide. But President Bush likes to be underestimated by his opponents, and that's part of the White House strategy now.

"Will President Bush step on his own line and maybe not pronounce a word right," Bartlett asked rhetorically. "I bet he will." But Bartlett said that after the 90-minute debate is over on Thursday, there won't be any ambiguity on the President's position.

A reporter asked Bartlett if this weekend's practice sessions should be viewed as a dress rehearsal for Mr. Bush, to which Bartlett replied: "He doesn't need practice putting on a suit, so he didn't do a full dress rehearsal." Duh.

Rapid Response to Hurricane Jeanne
Wanting to be seen reacting quickly to a disaster in a key political state, President Bush issued a disaster declaration for Florida on the same day as the storm made landfall. The action clears the way for still more federal aid to the beleaguered state now hit by four hurricanes in six weeks. Mr. Bush will get to see some of the latest damage when he arrives in the state on Wednesday, in advance of Thursday night's debate in Coral Gables.
--Mark Knoller


A week that was scheduled to have John Kerry spend most of it isolated at a Wisconsin resort for debate preparations has already begun with the candidate making news.

Kerry's campaign had originally announced he would spend almost all of his time preparing for Thursday's first presidential debate. The campaign printed up schedules for the press saying "no public events scheduled" on Monday or Tuesday.

But there was a change of heart Sunday as Kerry wound up giving an impromptu five minute speech upon landing in Madison, Wisconsin. Perhaps realizing that President Bush would be making news with his Monday campaign events in the battleground state of Ohio, the campaign announced Kerry would hold a town hall meeting in Spring Hill, Wisconsin Monday morning.

Kerry arrived at the Madison airport on Sunday for his four day, three night stay at a resort in Spring Hill, 40 miles from the state capital. He ripped into President Bush, who said in an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, that he would "absolutely" repeat the "Mission Accomplished" speech regarding Iraq he gave on an aircraft carrier in May 2003.

Kerry called Bush's response "unbelievable" adding, "I will never be a president who just says mission accomplished. I will get the mission accomplished. That's the difference."

As for debate prep, Kerry will spend at least "a couple hours a day" getting ready for the first debate, according to a campaign aide. While Kerry "doesn't really do formal prep" or, historically, does not "do mock debates," the aide said, he still will be practicing with his advisers (including campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, political adviser Bob Shrum, who will play moderator Jim Lehrer, foreign policy adviser Jonathan Winer, and attorney Greg Craig, who's playing the role of President Bush) in his suite at The House on the Rock Resort.

And for those wondering why he's spending four days in remote Wisconsin to prepare, spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said, "It's a remote area where we can concentrate and focus and still get out to talk to voters as much as possible."
--Steve Chaggaris


John Edwards holds a town hall meeting in Manchester, N.H., on Monday with the help of 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser. He then flies to Providence, R.I., for a fundraiser before heading to the Big Apple for two evening fundraisers in New York City.

On Sunday, Edwards was back on the campaign trail after resting up in Washington, D.C., for two days. He spoke at the New St. Paul Tabernacle Church on their annual women's day. African American women donning their Sunday hats were the majority of the congregation that filled less than half of the church. But Edwards used the venue to denounce the latest 527 ad to make waves using what the Democrats are calling the "politics of fear."

"Sometimes during a campaign and during an election, it's important for us to stand up and speak out, isn't it? Important for us to speak out against some of the immoral and unjust forces that are out there, right?" he asked, a question many frustrated Democrats have been asking Senators Kerry and Edwards for months.

Edwards went on to describe the ad that questions John Kerry's ability to keep the country safe by showing images of Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta, calling it "immoral and wrong." "This is not a Republican or Democratic issue it's not a political issue. We are all going to do what has to be done to keep this country safe aren't we?" he asked, a point that defended the president and vice president as well as his running mate.

Edwards also mentioned the pamphlets Republicans sent out to West Virginia and Arkansas voters that claimed a Kerry/Edwards win would ban the Bible. "The Bible is such an important part of my life. It is important part of John Kerry's life. But we have to stand up and speak out when people tell lies don't we? We have to stand up and speak out when these immoral forces are out there everyday fighting against justice don't we?"

But instead of "speaking out" against the Republicans, Edwards mostly spoke out about the fact that he was speaking out. He even reminded church goers that he had in fact done so before, when Vice President Cheney implied to voters that if Kerry won the election it was "likely" there would be another terrorist attack. "John Kerry and I don't want to divide this country, we want to unite this country," Edwards maintained before changing the subject and quoting Dr. Martin Luther King. Much safer turf for the church crowd.

On Sunday afternoon, Edwards made his second trip to Maine, where he held a town hall meeting focusing on the war on terror and national security. Sounding more like George Bush than John Edwards, the candidate said, "This is a battle of good and evil, this is a battle of freedom against those who would stop freedom," resolutely adding that the country should not "lose focus."

In case any Democrats were confused, Edwards made it clear he was in fact on the Democratic ticket. Referencing the president's interview on Fox News where he maintained he would once again give the famous/infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech on deck of the aircraft carrier, Edwards said, "Listen, these people are so out of touch with reality they are living in a fantasy world and they need to come back to planet earth. You can't fix something if you don't see what's wrong."
--Bonney Kapp


On Friday, the vice president took a slight detail from his favorite subject (John Kerry "lacks the clarity of vision and purpose necessary to lead our country during extraordinary times.") to address an issue that will be of great importance to the Bush administration if it wins re-election.

At a Tulsa, Oklahoma fundraiser, Cheney reminded the crowd they needed to help elect more Republicans to the Senate in order to help the President push his agenda forward.

Speaking to supporters of Oklahoma Senate GOP hopeful Tom Coburn, Cheney used the three Bush tax cuts as examples to outline the need for sending the candidate to Washington.

"It's absolutely essential as we go forward here that we keep in mind that this isn't just about a seat for Oklahoma," the vice president told the $500-a-plate crowd. "This is also about control of the United States Senate and our capacity to be able to get the kind of support on the Hill that the President absolutely has to have going forward on the basic fundamental issues and programs of the day."

In stump speeches, Cheney will often mention that his lone roll provided by the Constitution as president of the Senate is to cast tie breaking votes. But that wasn't always so, he tells crowds in an attempt to make light of his legislative responsibilities. "My predecessor John Adams also had floor privileges. He could go down into the well and actually participate in the debate, and then he did a couple of times and they withdrew his floor privileges," he's told crowds in the past.

On Friday, however, there was no triviality. "But the fact is, that package that we passed last year that hung by a thread. If we'd had one less vote in the Senate, we would not have had last year's tax bill. And that tax bill was directly responsible for the economic growth that we've seen over the course of the last year now."

The vice president also had another concern beyond the actual casting of votes. Namely, that the majority also controls the committees that shape the Senate's agenda and legislative schedule. "It's also about who controls all those key committees in the United States Senate, and about a choice for example, between having Orrin Hatch from Utah as chairman of the judiciary committee, or Pat Leahy from Vermont as chairman of the judiciary committee," he stressed.

Although senators with presidential aspirations have not had much success reaching the White House, for better or worse, legislators from that chamber will play a markedly significant roll in whether Vice President Cheney keeps his job for another four years.
--Josh Gross