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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Beth Lester, Allison Davis, David Berlin, Lucy Kafanov, and Allen Alter from the CBS News Political and Campaign '04 Units have the latest from Washington and from the trail.

Friday's Headlines
* Post-Debate Facts and Spin
* Poll Watch
* Bush Following the Debate
* Cheney's Brief
* Kerry Upbeat
* Edwards on the Road

Facts and Spin: As the campaigns and pundits wage what is likely to be a never-ending war of he-spun, she-spun, there are some facts presented in last night's debate which are less open to interpretation.

The non-partisan released an analysis just hours after the debate ended, looking a mistakes made by both candidates.

President Bush, FactCheck writes, "glossed over significant problems with US reconstruction efforts in Iraq when he claimed that the US is 'spending money' and that 100,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained" and "misquoted Kerry, distorting his position on withdrawing troops from Iraq."

On his side, "Kerry said the Iraq war has cost $200 billion, when the cost so far is actually just over $120 billion" and he "overstated the case when he said Bush allowed Osama bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora by 'outsourcing' fighting to Afghans."

Other media organizations also got in on the fact-checking game. The Washington Post questioned President Bush's claim that 10 million people have registered to vote in Afghanistan while the Associated Press looked at two (albeit minor) verbal foibles from Senator Kerry.

For their parts, the campaigns are also swinging into rebuttal mode. Bush-Cheney is focusing on Kerry's claim that New York's subways were shut down during the Republican National Convention due to inadequate homeland security funding. Unfortunately for Kerry, "The only problem is that no subway service beneath Madison Square Garden was suspended during the convention, even as buses were diverted and gridlock ruled the streets," notes the New York Post. And camp Kerry is also on the offense, touting series of network polls that show viewers saw Kerry as the winner.

Post-Debate Poll Watch: A group of news organizations, including CBS News, performed instant polls following the debate Thursday evening. All of the post-debate polls indicated that Senator Kerry won the debate with double-digit leads. As the Washington Post reports, "There were no glaring mistakes by either candidate during the 90-minute debate at the University of Miami, although Bush often appeared agitated, scowling at times as Kerry leveled his charges. While both delivered their messages forcefully, Kerry sharply questioned the president's credibility and highlighted his own ability to serve as commander in chief."

CBS News:
(200 uncommitted voters who watched the debate)
Kerry 43
Bush 28
Tie 29

ABC News:
(531 registered voters who watched the debate)
Kerry 45
Bush 36
Tie 17

CNN/USA Today/Gallup:
(615 registered voters who watched the debate)
Kerry 53
Bush 37
Neither 1
Tie 8
No Opinion 1

Following the Debate: Originally, President Bush was scheduled to stay in Florida following the debate and do events on Friday in Fort Myers and St. Petersburg. But, in a strategic move, those events were scrubbed so he could target the Keystone and Granite states instead. Before heading north to Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, CBS News' Mark Knoller reports on Bush's debate:

Knoller Nugget: Kerry drew first blood, but both candidates took direct hits. The Democrat was quick off the mark accusing the president of rushing to war in Iraq and lacking a plan to win the peace there. President Bush quickly returned fire, over and over accusing the Senator of vacillating and lacking the leadership skills needed to lead America and its military.

"As the politics change, his positions change and that's not how a Commander-in-Chief acts," said Mr. Bush. The phrase "flip-flop" never passed the president's lips, but it was a charge he repeatedly leveled against Kerry. "The only thing consistent about my opponent's position is that he's been inconsistent," said Mr. Bush in a line clearly prepared for his verbal showdown with Kerry.

He blasted the senator for saying Iraq was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for voting against the $87 billion dollar funding bill for military operations in Iraq. On both counts, the president said "that's not what a commander-in-chief does." Further, he said American troops will not follow somebody who has said the things Kerry has.

It was evident that some things Kerry said really irked Mr. Bush. When the Democrat charged that the President excluded the UN from the invasion of Iraq, Bush said "that's totally absurd." And he called it "ludicrous" when Kerry suggested more UN resolutions might have made Saddam give in.

But near the end of the 90-minute encounter, when PBS moderator Jim Lehrer asked the president whether something Kerry just said "raised any hackles," Mr. Bush said, "I'm a pretty calm guy. I don't take it personally." That's another way of saying, "Don't get mad, get even."

No Spin Here: Is there much journalistic purpose in asking the top aides to either candidate how they did in "The Debate?" You never get a straight answer, so what's the point? Suffice it to say that each campaign's senior advisors thought their candidate conquered the rhetorical world and his opponent was a weasel. We already knew that.

At a post-debate rally, Mr. Bush clearly seemed in good spirits and humor. "Anything worthwhile on TV?" he asked a crowd of supporters that just finished watching the televised debate.

Declaring that he "enjoyed" the verbal slugfest, he said "I had a good time up there talking about what I believe…It's not that hard to debate if you know what's in your heart and where you want to lead this country," he told his enthusiastic audience. They would have cheered no matter how he did.

Cheney's Brief: Vice President Dick Cheney had a brief public schedule on Thursday in Denver, making sure he was a compliment to the president's debate and not a distraction. He appeared at a private fundraiser for Greg Walcher, who is running for the state's Congressional seat, before addressing a crowd gathered to watch the evening's verbal contest. CBS News's Josh Gross reports:

Trail Byte: Before retiring to his room to watch the debate in private, Cheney made a crack at the expense of John Kerry to the Walcher crowd. "There's been a last minute flurry on the Kerry side about the lights on the podium. They signed an agreement approving the lights. I guess this is like John Kerry who was for the lights before he was against them."

He also impressed upon the crowd what he expected from the debate. "I think you'll see a very clear choice between the president who is absolutely committed to the right course of action and a senator who is not quite sure what he believes. Whatever he says tonight will contradict something he has said during the course of this campaign."

After the debate, he criticized Kerry but spent more time complimenting the president, not so much on his performance during the debate but more for his actions over the last four years. "I don't think you can look at that debate tonight and conclude anything other than on the one case we've got in George Bush a man who has done it, who has been there, done it four different, for four different years now, and done a superb job, made the right decisions for America."

He also attacked the Democrat's repeated critical evaluation of the coalition in Iraq. "We've got 30 countries fighting alongside of us in Iraq and we're prepared to work to lead a coalition." Falling back on a stump speech favorite, he finished, "But we will never submit to the objections of a few. We will never seek a permission slip to defend the United States of America."

From Denver, the vice president then flew to his home in Wyoming to practice for his debate next week. He has been preparing for several weeks by participating in mock debates with Ohio Congressman Rob Portman standing in for John Edwards. Cheney will remain outside the public eye until Tuesday when he shows up in Cleveland ahead of the vice presidential debate there.

Kerry Upbeat: Buoyed by an initial sense that Senator Kerry had performed well in his first debate against President Bush, the candidate heads to Tampa and Orlando on Friday with a shot of energy that seemed lacking in recent days. CBS News' Steve Chaggaris reports

Trail Byte: Within an hour of the first debate's conclusion, Kerry and his wife Teresa addressed a few thousand supporters, as well as singers John Mellencamp and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, at the Miami Arena.

"Was John Kerry rocking tonight, or what?" Mrs. Kerry asked the screaming crowd, moments after the candidate bounded onto the stage.

Prior to the debate, Kerry lunched with his daughter Alexandra, had dinner with his wife, got a haircut (not a manicure, contrary to some reports, according to spokesman David Wade), and decided between wearing a red or a blue tie (he chose red).

Following the debate, Kerry spoke to his running mate, John Edwards, for about 10 to 15 minutes, who told Kerry, "Tonight the whole world saw a strong commander in chief," according to a campaign aide.

Interestingly, Edwards was not the first person Kerry spoke to at the end of the debate. Jim Rassmann, the soldier whom Kerry pulled from a Vietnam river during a firefight and who has been campaigning for Kerry since January, was on hold on Kerry's cell phone when the candidate got into his motorcade outside the debate hall.

Rassmann, not holding his excitement back, shouted over the phone, "You did a goddamn great job and I'm proud of you!"

Edwards on the Road: Before going down until his big debate next Tuesday, Edwards hits two battleground states. He will hold a town hall meeting outside Dayton, Ohio, before rallying Pennsylvanians in Erie. CBS News' Bonney Kapp reports:

Trail Byte: John Edwards did not attempt to take the focus off his running mate Thursday, keeping out of the spotlight before the first presidential debate. The candidate spent most of the day in Washington, DC, where he worked on his own debate preparations before heading off to Columbus, Ohio to hold a post-debate rally.

The senator watched his running mate take on President Bush from his Columbus hotel room. One staffer in the room with Edwards said the senator was very pleased with Senator Kerry's performance. One point he was particularly impressed with was when Kerry pointed out Bush failed to capture Osama bin Laden when he had the chance, instead diverting resources to Iraq.

At the late night rally, some 5,000 gathered to watch the debate on giant television screens before hearing from the vice presidential candidate. Edwards praised his running mate's debate prowess and Ohio football. "So, let me ask you Columbus—are the Buckeyes playing good football? And did John Kerry own that stage tonight in Florida?"

Edwards said Kerry proved he is "ready for this job" and added, "I saw exactly the kind of commander in chief America needs on that stage tonight and it was John Kerry."

After he gave the Bush administration a good lashing on what Democrats call a failed foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, Edwards made it clear what is next for his campaign: "What you'll be able to hear about over the next week, week and a half, is since tonight's debate was about national security and foreign policy, we haven't even gotten to the damage that they've done here, right?" Edwards then promised supporters he would address domestic issues like energy independence at his own debate next week.

Carolyn Christy, a supporter who attended the post-debate rally, is confident that Edwards will win next week's VP debate because the Democrat has "a lot more understanding of the American people in general than Dick Cheney does." She added, "With his legal training, he should do very well."

Columbus resident Douglas Erickson wasn't as sure, saying Edwards would have to "demonstrate to the American people that he understands what the issues are." When asked how Edwards would stack up, Erickson responded, "We'll have to wait and see. You never know what's going to happen."

Starting Friday, Edwards will hole up at an upstate New York retreat (the same one used for President Clinton's debate preps in 1996) to bone up for his Tuesday rendezvous with the vice president. In another flashback for Democrats, Washington power lawyer Bob Barnett will be playing the vice president in debate practice, a familiar position for the attorney who played Cheney opposite Joe Lieberman in 2000.

Quote of the Day: "If I could only go through the ducts and leap out onstage in a cape -- that's my dream." --Ralph Nader, talking about how he would like to participate in the presidential debates. (Miami Herald)

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