Washington Wrap

WASHINGTON WRAP 9-3-04

Dotty Lynch, Beth Lester, Clothilde Ewing, Lauren Glasser and Allen Alter from the CBS News Political and Campaign '04 Units have the latest political news from Washington and from the trail:

Friday's Headlines

* Bush to New York: Get Outta Town

* The Zell Effect

* Kerry Gives a Hurricane Force Response

* Kerry Campaign Gets Aggressive Too

* Sunny Side of the Street

Bush to New York: Get Outta Town: President Bush's amazing adventure in New York to pick up his re-nomination and give a speech lasted all of 24 hours. Vice President Cheney left quickly as well, flying to Oregon for a rally and then onto Las Vegas. The Bush-Cheney campaign is packing up extra booklets laying out the plan to "Make a Safer World and a More Hopeful America" and amplifying the message with new TV ads to run all weekend in the battleground states. CBS News'Mark Knoller came and went with the President and filed this report:

Knoller Nugget: Within minutes of finishing his acceptance speech, President Bush was speeding to JFK to be in place for the Friday morning start of a two-day post-convention campaign swing. It is an effort to generate momentum and a grab bounce in the polls from the convention.

Bush's first targets are Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa, three battleground states where he lost four years ago by narrow margins but is trying aggressively to win this year. That is especially true in Pennsylvania: this is his 34th visit to the state since taking office and his ninth this year. In fact, he returns to Pennsylvania on Saturday for yet another campaign rally at the end of a bus tour through Ohio.

The Speech: It ran just over an hour and gave President Bush the opportunity to address the largest audience he will have for any campaign speech. And though he was no Zell Miller in terms of the ferocity of his attacks on John Kerry, Mr. Bush took more than a few swipes at his challenger.

"His policies of tax and spend, of expanding government rather than expanding opportunity, are the policies of the past," said Mr. Bush. Before his largely conservative convention audience, he ridiculed Kerry at some length for claiming to have conservative values.

And, as he does in every campaign speech, the President blasted Kerry and his running mate for voting against the $87 billion in funding last year for US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The President also used his convention speech to show he could poke fun at himself. "You may have noticed I have a few flaws, too," he admitted. Bush said he knew he had a problem expressing himself when Arnold Schwarzenegger started correcting his English. And he joked that some folks look at him and see a certain swagger. But in Texas, he said, it's just called walking.

With tongue-in-cheek, the President admitted he may come across as a little too blunt. "For that," he said, "we can all thank the white-haired lady sitting right up there." It was an obvious reference to his mother and her reputation for being something of a domineering matriarch.

The President did not announce plans for any new tax cuts, if re-elected. But he did say the federal tax code needs to be simplified. He called it "a complicated mess" and a "drag on our economy."

A few weeks back he called the National Sales Tax "an interesting idea," but he did not mention it at the Convention. Instead, he said he'd appoint a bipartisan panel to recommend options for fixing or replacing the tax code.

The Zell Effect: Much has been made about Sen. Zell Miller's stinging critique of John Kerry on Wednesday night, but Sen. John McCain has jumped into the fray, warning that it may have done more harm than good with the all-important swing voters, reports the Los Angeles Times.

McCain even went as far as to say the speech could prove as controversial as Pat Buchanan's keynote at the 1992 GOP convention speech in which he declared a "cultural war" was underway in America. The speech is thought by many to have hurt Bush 41's reelection bid.

Miller's address was laced with harsh criticism of Kerry's legislative record on military issues and, in a furious assault on the senator, he charged that Kerry was not the man to be commander in chief.

"I think it backfires," McCain said of Miller's rhetorical assault on Kerry. He added that it "makes Buchanan's speech ... look milquetoast." Kerry senior advisor Joe Lockhart dubbed the Miller and Cheney speeches as looking like a remake of "Grumpy Old Men."

The New York Times reports that even some delegates who originally cheered the speech in the convention hall said that, when they saw television replays, they thought the close-ups of Miller's clenched features presented an intensity that could have been overwhelming.

A Republican pollster meanwhile said a focus group of swing voters in Ohio rated Miller a hit, particularly with his sarcastic line that Kerry would arm American troops with spitballs. "Our swing voters, evenly split between Bush and Gore 2000 voters, were surprised and impressed that a Democratic senator would appear at a Republican convention and challenge directly his party's nominee," said Frank Luntz, the pollster.

Kerry Gives a Hurricane Force Response: The buzz among political reporters in Madison Square Garden about an hour before the President's speech was as much about what John Kerry was about to unload in Ohio than about the groovy center arena podium that President Bush was about to seize. The Kerry campaign deliberately sent out excerpts early to try to get themselves into the Bush prime time story. It worked. CBS News' Steve Chaggaris was with Kerry when he delivered the full speech.

Trail Byte: Minutes after President Bush's speech to the Republican convention, Senators Kerry and Edwards joined up to rally their troops in Springfield, Ohio. On the one-year anniversary of his official campaign kickoff, Kerry made his harshest and most direct attack ever on the President and the Vice President.

"The Vice President called me unfit for office last night," Kerry said about Dick Cheney's convention speech Wednesday. "I'm going to leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments makes someone more qualified than two tours of duty."

Kerry's fired-up comments revealed he was clearly smarting from the criticisms of his Vietnam service from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group and from Cheney's pointed jabs about Kerry's "habit of indecision" and comments that the Democrat has repeatedly "made the wrong call on national security."

"They attacked my patriotism and even my fitness to serve as Commander in Chief," Kerry said. "I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and who misled America into Iraq."

A campaign aide said this line of attack probably will not become a regular part of Kerry's stump speech and is not expected to show up in his remarks on Friday, as the focus will be on jobs. However, "when they (Bush and Cheney) turn this into a debate about character," the aide said, the lines will resurface.

Spokesman David Wade said that the decision to hit Bush-Cheney directly Thursday night was made by Kerry after he read newspaper accounts of Cheney's speech and not because of Democratic Sen. Zell Miller's scathing keynote address Wednesday.

"We could care less about what a former segregationist like Zell Miller has to say," Wade said. "This is about Dick Cheney."

"When you're a decorated combat veteran, those kinds of attacks mean something to you," he continued. "He's not going to take it from someone who received five deferments."

Kerry Campaign Gets Aggressive in Ads Too: After almost a month of basically staying off the air and decrying negative politics, the Kerry campaign released six (yes, six) new advertisements, each of which will run in a targeted market that President Bush will visit over the next few days. The ads are much harsher in tone than previous missives: each of them notes, "Now, Bush is back. But around here, we remember Bush's broken promises."

The ads will run in Scranton, PA, Milwaukee, WI, Cedar Rapids, IA, Cleveland, OH, Erie, PA and Parkersburg, WV to remind voters there "of the explicit promises that George Bush made to them, and has failed to keep," according to a press release from the campaign. Each ad contains footage of Bush making a speech or promising a new program: health insurance in Ohio, wages in Erie and Iowa, manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin, and clean coal technology in West Virginia. For the so-far mostly positive ads that Kerry has done, these are a not-so-subtle change.

And the Kerry staff is going at is as well. They landed in New Your on Thursday and forcefully laid out their red meat at Keen's Steakhouse for a succession of political reporters. At the meeting with CBS News, brand new advisor (and former Clinton press secretary) Joe Lockhart said the campaign would not hesitate to run an aggressive campaign and that they "relish what is ahead." Kerry advisor Tad Devine said that the campaign was going to "begin in earnest, both in volume and in scope." Former Clinton White House political guru Doug Sosnik was also at the briefing along with Kerry campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, pollster Mark Mellman and communications director Stephanie Cutter. All seemed to be playing nicely (and aggressively) with each other.

On a Friday morning conference call, that new aggressiveness was also on display. Ostensibly discussing the new jobs numbers (which show 144,000 new jobs created), Rep. Dick Gephardt instead went after Bush on a variety of issues, including accusing Bush of "incredible chutzpah" in talking about tax reform. For his part, Lockhart told reporters that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were "pathological liars" and that if Bush has things to say about Kerry, "he should stop hiding behind his family, his father, his vice president." Looks like Camp Kerry is tired of getting beat up.

Edwards Stays on the Sunny Side of the Street: Sources tell CBS News that Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards was apparently taken aback by the hot Kerry rhetoric. He too focused on the anger of the GOP, though in a more restrained fashion. CBS News' Bonney Kapp is with him:

Trail Byte: Senator Edwards begins a two-day bus tour Friday in Wisconsin, a last minute swing state substitute. His original itinerary was south Florida, but that trip was postponed due to the imminent arrival of Hurricane Francis.

The day really got underway hours earlier at a joint Kerry-Edwards rally in Springfield, OH where Edwards introduced his running mate. "He is a fighter and you're about to see it," Edwards told the late night crowd. While Kerry came out swinging against the Republican ticket's military records, Edwards stood on stage applauding approvingly. "Character and strength" supplemented by a one-two punch.

On Thursday, Edwards himself was quick to respond directly at a town hall meeting outside Philadelphia to attacks made at the Republican Convention.

"There's a lot of hope and optimism coming out of that place last night," Edwards said sarcastically to about 500 residents of Norristown, PA. "The anger we heard from Senator Miller, the anger we heard from the Vice President -- anger is not going to change this country and do what needs to be done for America."

But a few Democrats are angry. It was the third town hall meeting Senator Edwards has heard a participant urge the party's ticket to take a stronger stand. "You're up against the dirtiest fighters in the world-and when they hit you, you gotta hit back twice," a man in the audience said while others in the crowd applauded.

Edwards maintained that the hopeful, optimistic message will remain intact, responding, "There's a difference between how you fight and who you're fighting for. It's one thing to engage in a lot of personal assaults that we saw last night; it's another thing to fight with everything you've got for the American people and the people you believe in."

"I personally believe it's a sign of character and strength what we've seen from John Kerry," said Edwards.

Quote of the Day: "Most awkward sight: Republican delegates dancing to "Soul Man," one of many convention awards given out by the New York Times' John Tierney.