Dotty Lynch, Beth Lester, Allison Davis and Allen Alter from the CBS News Political and Campaign '04 Units have the latest from Washington and from the trail.
Cheney's Fly-Fishing is Over: Vice President Cheney leaves Jackson Hole, Wyo., Tuesday and flies into Cleveland for the VP debate. He will attend a post-debate rally afterward. CBS News' Josh Gross reports on the debate preparations:
Trail Byte: Vice President Cheney spent the four days leading up to his Tuesday night debate at his home in Wyoming practicing and relaxing before flying to Cleveland. Surrounded by staff and family, he participated in mock debates, hoping to prepare for his verbal contest with Senator John Edwards.
To assist him, Cheney was joined by Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who played the roll of Edwards. The Congressman also got to play Sen. Joe Lieberman during mock debates in 2000.
At last month's Republican National Convention, Cheney had some fun with the situation. At an event for Ohio delegates, Portman introduced a vice president who was relaxed from giving his speech the night before.
"I have trouble thinking of Rob as Rob," said Cheney. "I don't know how many of you know, he's my debate preparation opponent. This is Sen. John Edwards. Stand up Rob, let them look at you. But he's a lot prettier."
He continued, "Rob performed that task for me four years ago and I'm superstitious. I wanted to make certain we had exactly the same quality preparation this time around. And he does a great job."
You can be assured that things were more serious over the weekend. The two have held several mock debates since mid-August. They have simulated the style of the debates, a sit-down conversation with a mediator, which would remind viewers of a Sunday morning talk show. Most have taken place in Washington DC, convenient for both Cheney and a sitting congressman.
Portman is making sure that he is the best John Edwards possible by adding mannerisms of the senator into his act. Both he and the vice president's staff have made sure to study Edwards' primary debates, campaign speeches and overall style. Anything that will make Portman's portrayal more accurate was noted and adopted.
In preparation of the debate, the vice president's campaign is also making sure not to set expectations too high. They have reminded everyone that Edwards made his living as a lawyer and orator. The vice president does not speak in short sound bites that fit well into newspaper stories or TV news. At the same time, they refer to Edwards as "the man with the golden tongue."
Cheney will not have any public events before the debate. He lands in Cleveland mid-afternoon but keeps out of sight until the event starts. Afterward, however, the vice president will address a crowd of well-wishers to put the best spin on the debate, no matter how things turned out.
Edwards Warms Up: CBS News' Bonney Kapp reports that John Edwards will hold a town hall meeting Tuesday afternoon in Parma, Ohio. According to Kerry's advisor Joe Lockhart, the event will be a "warm-up" for the vice presidential debate and give the senator an "up to date" sense of issues important to voters. Following the debate Edwards will be joined by his wife, Elizabeth, at a late night rally in Cleveland.
Trail Byte: While Dick Cheney was fishing in Wyoming the day before the vice presidential debate, John Edwards was hard at work in Chautauqua, N.Y., finishing a third straight day of debate preparations.
After his weary but confident staff checked out of the hotel (one sleep-deprived staffer would only reveal, "The guy is great."), the relaxed-looking senator was treated to a less than rousing rendition of "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" from a group of volunteers gathered to send him off to Cleveland. As Edwards shook hands with hotel staffers, local police officers, and the volunteers, he dodged questions from reporters interested in his thoughts going into the debate.
Instead, the press was directed to a litany of Kerry advisors. On an afternoon conference call, Bruce Reed described Cheney as a "formidable" debater, but added, "We'll find out how a seasoned debater can defend an extraordinarily weak record."
Reed aired a laundry list of statistics of the past four years including rising healthcare costs, lower incomes, and fewer jobs, and accused the vice president of painting a "dark portrait of the future" while offering no hope to the American people. Cheney is a "poster child for more of the same," while Edwards is a symbol for "hope is on the way," Reed said, creating a good versus evil backdrop.
So is the white hat-wearing senator ready for his nemesis? "John Edwards is someone who has dealt with pressure situations for 25 years," Kerry advisor Tad Devine told reporters Monday night in Cleveland. "He's represented people in courtrooms all across North Carolina very successfully in trials of enormous consequences, with enormous scrutiny and tremendous pressure."
The campaign believes it's the experienced Cheney who has to prove himself at the debate, not the first-timer, John Edwards. "The VP's task, I think, has been made more difficult by what the president did [Thursday] night," Devine noted, saying Cheney had the burden to be the "stopper" to keep the momentum from sliding even further away from the Republican ticket.
And much like President Reagan turned the age issue around on challenger Walter Mondale, the Kerry campaign has made experience a negative trait for the VP. Lockhart said there were "a lot of ways to look at experience." While Cheney has had 30 years of experience of siding with the wrong side, Edwards has stood up for working families his whole career. "We are very happy to match experience," Lockhart said.
Expecting a "vigorous" debate, campaign officials believe Cheney's connection to Halliburton is a "legitimate and important issue" in the election that will likely come up Tuesday night. Anticipating a trial lawyer comeback from Cheney, Devine said Edwards was prepared to stand up and defend a record he was proud of, adding, "We welcome that debate. I mean, if the vice president turns it into a name calling session, I think he'll have as much success as the president did last Thursday night."
For Once President Bush Plays Second Fiddle: President Bush is out of the limelight today as all eyes are on Cleveland. His campaign however has released two new ads, one on women's health, and one on medical malpractice and those greedy trial lawyers. The administration is spending time trying to do some damage control on the remarks of former Ambassador Paul Bremer who said there were not enough troops in Iraq after Saddam's fall. CBS News' Mark Knoller reports:
Knoller Nugget: It's a rare day back at the White House Tuesday for President Bush He has no public events on his schedule so he'll continue to prep for Friday's second debate with John Kerry.
On Wednesday, in a shift of strategy, Mr. Bush will deliver what his spokesman bills as a significant speech on the two highest priorities facing the American people: the war on terrorism and the economy. The speech in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was originally to focus on his call for medical liability reform. Spokesman Scott McClellan denies the change was prompted by post-debate polls showing Mr. Bush losing ground.
The president was playing the "Hillary" card on Monday. At a campaign rally in Clive, Iowa, Mr. Bush invoked the name of Sen. Hillary Clinton as a way of demeaning the health care plan put forward by Sen. Kerry.
"He's got a system that's creeping toward Hillary Care," said the president.
It was an effort at guilt by association, likening Kerry's approach to the much-maligned effort by Clinton to enact a national health care plan during her years as first lady.
Mr. Bush charges that Kerry "believes that the federal government ought to be making your decisions" when it comes to health care.
The president also took a new swipe at Kerry on the issue of Iraq. Mr. Bush said Kerry voted against the use of military force against Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War.
He charged that if Kerry's view had prevailed, Saddam would not only still be in power in Iraq, he'd still be in Kuwait as well.
The president went on to say: "The policies of my opponent are dangerous for world peace. If they were implemented, they would make this world not more peaceful, but more dangerous."
During the Q&A portion of the event, one supporter said his son served in Iraq and had returned safely. "My question is, when can other parents rest easy, knowing their sons and daughter are on their way home?"
"As soon as the mission is complete," responded Mr. Bush. "Whether it be for the sake of your son who sacrificed, or for a son who did not come home, we must complete the mission in their honor," said the president.
"It's essential we finish the job," he said. "It's in our interests that Iraq become a free country."
Mr. Bush also sought to put to rest rumors and speculation that the military draft will be reinstated to acquire more personnel for duty in Iraq. When no one asked him about it at the rally in Clive, he raised the issue on his own.
"I want to answer something. You didn't ask it, but I'm going to ask it myself," he said to laughter from his audience.
"Are you going to keep the all-volunteer army volunteer?" he asked. "And the answer is 'absolutely!'"
"We don't need a draft. We will not have a draft so long as I'm the President of the United States," declared Mr. Bush to applause.
In recent days, former presidential candidate Howard Dean has been saying the Selective Service System is gearing up for a reinstatement of the draft, an assertion the White House denies.
Monday's event was the 16th "Ask President Bush" campaign event Mr. Bush has done this year. The questions always come from ardent supporters and border on the sycophantic. This one was no different. "Mr. President, first, we just want to tell you that we pray for you every night as our president," said the first questioner. "I am appreciative of your leadership," began another. Another said: "Thank you, President Bush, for your integrity. You're a man of honesty and I trust you with my life and my family's."
These questions are a far cry from the ones Mr. Bush will face in his second debate with Kerry on Friday in St. Louis.
It will be a town meeting format in which members of the audience will ask questions. Though under the rules, the written questions must be submitted in advance, and moderator Charles Gibson of ABC News will choose which questions get asked.
One admiring questioner Monday offered Mr. Bush a suggestion. "If you would just stand up and tell that opponent of yours exactly what you're saying today. We're behind you. We pray for you."
But for now, the Bush campaign is focused on how Vice President Cheney will do in his verbal showdown with Sen. John Edwards.
Just as the White House tried to low-ball debate expectations for President Bush, spokesman McClellan tried to do the same for Cheney by portraying Edwards as a star debater.
"Senator Edwards was a powerful personal injury lawyer who mastered his debating skills in the courtroom. He pocketed millions of dollars by successfully arguing his cases before juries," said McClellan.
In fact, McClellan said "the primary reason" Kerry chose Edwards "was because he is a master litigator."
And as he does in almost every speech, the president again on Monday conceded Edwards has better hair than Cheney. But Mr. Bush says he didn't choose Cheney for his hair.
Kerry's Lucky Mustard Jacket Is Back: John Kerry returned to Iowa this week and brought back that average guy coat that he wore in the early primaries. He then goes on to Colorado to prepare for Friday's town hall debate: CBS news' Steve Chaggaris reports:
Trail Byte: On the day that marks four weeks until the election, John Kerry is campaigning Tuesday where he was last year at this time: Iowa.
This campaign stop as well as one in New Hampshire Monday marks the first time he's hit both states back-to-back since he won the Iowa caucuses January 19. And the visits have made Kerry very nostalgic about all the time spent campaigning in the two states.
"It's fun to be back here," Kerry said Monday in Hampton, N.H. He added that after arriving (wearing the same Timberland barn jacket he bought after a January stop at the company's headquarters) he "figured" he "was heading off to a chili feed somewhere." That was a reference to the campaign events he held regularly at New Hampshire firehouses during the primaries.
Being back in New Hampshire, he continued, "really makes me feel comfortable and at home."
Kerry's comment came shortly after running into some reporters who have covered his campaign for the past year and telling them "it feels like we're back home."
But for those journalists who followed Kerry through Iowa and New Hampshire, thinking back to where his presidential campaign was last year at this time — on the verge of death — it's interesting that he's so wistful about his time campaigning there.
Kerry was doing so poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire last fall that every time his plane touched down in either state, it seemed like he was greeted with one bad news story after the other: Kerry firing his campaign manager ... Kerry being insulted by a puppet on Jay Leno ... The Massachusetts poll that showed Howard Dean ahead of Kerry in his own home state ...
Granted, he eventually won both Iowa and New Hampshire. And one year later, Kerry finds himself in a completely different situation, but a lot of those campaign days last year couldn't possibly have been the happiest for him.
Speaking of fights, Kerry will travel to Englewood, Colo., to prepare for this Friday's presidential debate and to watch the vice presidential debate. He'll spend two nights there before jetting to St. Louis, the site of his second showdown with President Bush.
DNC Unveils Lawyers And A New Radio Ad: Donna Brazile led a press conference at the Democratic National Committee headquarters Tuesday. Brazile, who is chair of the Democratic National Committee Voting Rights Institute, unveiled a special 2004 Election Protection Advisory Board including an expanded legal team who will be watching for voter fraud, specifically in battleground states. According to the DNC's release statement: "In every battleground state, there is a Kerry-Edwards state counsel directing legal strategies to fight the efforts of government officials and/or the Republicans to limit voter registration..."
"The Florida situation did damage to electoral system," said Brazile.
"A vote represents a choice," Brazile continued and this newly increased task force is planning to travel across the country between now and Election Day to "make sure that Florida never happens again."
In addition to announcing a new pack of ready to travel lawyers, the DNC released a 30-second radio advertisement encouraging minority voters to vote Democratic. "George Bush and the Republicans will tell you to vote. That you're part of the process, a part of history. Yep, that's what you'll hear. If you're white." This radio spot will begin airing today in 25 cities across nine battleground states.
The RNC is also putting together groups of lawyers to monitor the elections. We don't know if they will be accompanied by paid ads. Stay tuned.
Quote of the Day: "Would like to ask if they would like to live in Cleveland and, if the answer is yes, for what reason" — among the questions Cleveland Plain Dealer readers would like to ask the vice presidential candidates.