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Washington Wrap

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.

Friday's Headlines
  • Will Soft Voters Ask Hard Questions?
  • Jobs Numbers Latest Political Football
  • Ask President Bush
  • Cheney Likes Florida
  • Kerry Deep In Debate Prep
  • Edwards All Over The Place

    Will Soft Voters Ask Hard Questions? Tonight's town hall-style debate in St. Louis will include 100 to 150 participants chosen by the Gallup polling organization. The Washington Post reports that Gallup "had sole discretion to choose the participants from a random sample in the St. Louis area. Working the telephone, the organization asked people whether they were registered voters, whether they planned to vote and whether they were committed to a candidate.

    "If they were undecided, they qualified, but 'those are few and far between,'" [Frank] Newport, Gallup's editor-in-chief, told the Post. "He pointed out that the most recent Gallup Poll, published this week, showed zero percent of American voters undecided, the first time anyone can remember that happening.

    "If the Missourians answered that they favored one candidate, Newport said, they were then asked whether there was any chance they would vote for a different candidate. If they said there was a chance, Newport said, they were told they could join the town hall pool."

    The participants will be asked to submit questions to moderator Charlie Gibson in advance. The agreement between the campaigns specifies that Gibson will chose an equal number of questions from supporters of each candidate and that he will equally divide the questions between domestic and foreign policy. There will be no follow-ups and the questioner's microphone is supposed to be turned off after the pre-submitted question is asked.

    The rules also specify that the candidates will sit in swivel chairs of the same height. The candidates are free to roam around, but only in a "pre-designated area," ones that don't overlap.

    Gibson will have a chart in front of him so he'll know where each questioner is seated. Only he will know which questions have been selected.

    Jobs Numbers Latest Political Football: With the second presidential debate almost sure to include questions about the economy, Friday's new job numbers immediately became a political football. The Bush-Cheney campaign released an ad called "Nearly Two Million" which touts, shockingly, what the president sees as good numbers. The ad says, in part, "There are many reasons to be hopeful about America's future. Nearly two million new jobs in just over a year. Nearly two million more people back working. Nearly two million more people with wages."

    The Kerry campaign, not surprisingly, has a very different take on the economic numbers. In a statement, Kerry said, "Today, we received another disappointing jobs report for America's workers ... President Bush will be the first president in 72 years to face the electorate with an economy that has lost jobs under his watch." The Kerry campaign also held a conference call for reporters with former Clinton economic advisor Gene Sperling. Sperling ripped into the report, saying that the economy has lost 1.6 million private sector jobs and 2.7 million manufacturing jobs in Mr. Bush's tenure and that the "labor force has gotten into a deep hole under Bush." Sperling went on to say the "president's fantasy spin on the economy is so out of touch with the reality of labor market."

    Bush-Cheney sees two million new jobs, Kerry-Edwards sees millions lost. The reality? Both campaigns are right: "Though 1.8 million jobs have been added to the payrolls of U.S. businesses since August 2003, there are about 800,000 fewer jobs — overall — than when Bush took office in January 2001," reports the Associated Press. Look for this debate to make an appearance in Friday night's debate.

    Lots of Folks Now Get To Ask President Bush: President Bush has participated in a lot of town hall meetings prior to Friday's town hall debate, but the questions have generally come from fans. CBS News' Mark Knoller reports:

    Knoller Nugget: Members of the audience get to ask the questions at Friday's town meeting-style debate. Over the past year, Mr. Bush has done 16 of his own 'Ask The President' campaign events. And he showed himself to be comfortable in the format.

    Of course, those doing the asking were carefully screened supporters. And their questions bordered on the sycophantic. Some recent examples:

    • "I've never been in the same room as the President, and I just wanted to have the opportunity to thank you."
    • "Well, first of all, it's just an honor to be here and I'm glad to meet you, and you're really a hero to America."
    • "I'm running for student president of my freshman class, and I was wondering if I could have your support."
    Unfortunately for President Bush, there'll be no questions like that at the debate.

    After road-testing his latest retorts to John Kerry's line of attack, President Bush looks to the debate as a forum in which to re-take ground lost in last week's first joint appearance. In campaign speeches over the last two days in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, Mr. Bush got comfortable with a new round of verbal barbs, swipes and blasts with which to respond to Kerry. Here is a selection that reveals Mr. Bush's Friday night debate strategy:

    • "We've got some fundamental differences on issues like taxes. See, I have a record of reducing them. He's got a record of raising them."
    • "He voted in the United States Senate 98 times to raise taxes."
    • "He voted for higher taxes on Social Security benefits."
    • "He voted for the 1997 formula that helped cause the increases in Medicare."
    • "My opponent is one of the few candidates in history to campaign on a pledge to raise taxes. And unfortunately that's the kind of promise more politicians keep."
    • "My opponent's (health insurance) proposal would be the largest expansion of government-run health care ever."
    • "What I'm telling you is he's putting us on the path to 'Hillary care.'"
    • "During his 20 years as a senator, my opponent hasn't had many accomplishments. Of the hundreds of bills he submitted, only five became law."
    • "The nonpartisan National Journal analyzed his record and named John Kerry the most liberal member of the United States Senate. Now, that's saying something when the competition is people like Ted Kennedy."
    • "My opponent is a tax-and-spend liberal, I'm a compassionate conservative."
    • "My opponent wants to empower government. I want to use government to empower our citizens."
    • "My opponent seems to think all the wisdom is found in Washington, D.C. I trust the wisdom of the American people."
    • "Last week in our debate, Senator Kerry once again came down firmly on every side of the Iraq war."
    • "Senator Kerry approaches the world with a September the 10th mindset."
    • "In our debate, Senator Kerry said that removing Saddam Hussein was a mistake because a threat was not imminent. Think about that. The problem with his approach is obvious. If America waits until a threat is at our doorstep, it might be too late to save lives."
    • "When my opponent first ran for Congress, he argued that American troops should be deployed only at the directive of the United Nations. You probably think I'm making that up."
    • "In the middle of the war, he's chosen to insult our fighting allies by calling them "window dressing" and "a coalition of the coerced and the bribed."
    • "His well-chosen words and his rationalizations cannot explain why he voted to authorize force against Saddam Hussein and then voted against money to support our troops in combat."
    Get the idea? The strategy is self-evident: Mr. Bush is ready to attack Kerry on issues of leadership, the war on terrorism, the invasion of Iraq, taxes, health care and overall credibility. The goal for Mr. Bush is to make his case and respond rapidly with the authority of the presidency, a quality that polls and pundits found lacking in his first debate last week.

    Cheney Likes Florida A Lot: CBS News' John Gross reports:

    Trail Byte: The procession of hurricanes that blew across Florida in the past few weeks forced Vice President Cheney to postpone several trips to the state. Now that he's gotten there, however, it seems he doesn't want to leave. By week's end, he will have spent four days in the state, wrapping up on Saturday with a fundraiser for U.S. Senate candidate and former cabinet member Mel Martinez.

    Campaigning in Miami and Fort Meyers, Cheney probably surprised a few at the Q&A sessions by bringing up the Duelfer report without prompting from the audience. Even as Miami newspapers ran headlines like: "Inspector: No Proof Iraq Had Weapons," the vice president embraced the findings of a report that seemed to discredit the White House's argument for war in Iraq. But just some of the findings.

    "One of the things that comes out in the Duelfer report that was released yesterday, the headlines all say no weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in Iraq. Well, we already knew that," he told the crowd in Miami. "The intriguing finding that Duelfer has come up with is the extent of corruption in the U.N. 'oil for food' program."

    In an effort to ease the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War, the 'oil for food' program was set up in 1996 as an "opportunity to sell oil to finance the purchase of humanitarian goods, and various mandated United Nations activities concerning Iraq," according to the U.N. In recent years, suggestions of corruption have surfaced involving Saddam Hussein, those running the program in the U.N., private companies and public officials around the world. The Duelfer report confirmed some of these allegations.

    "Saddam perverted that whole thing, corrupted it, in effect, and generated billions of dollars which he used partly to get around the sanctions, by buying weapons of various kinds, conventional weapons in this case, that were in violation of sanctions," Cheney told a group in Fort Meyers later in the day. "And according to Duelfer, then, it was his intention once sanctions were lifted to go back into business and resume his pursuit of these deadly technologies. Not a very good outcome."

    The failures of the 'oil for food' program, until Thursday, had not been used to justify the removal of Saddam. Also new was the admission by Vice President Cheney that "we already knew" that there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq.

    It would have been very difficult for Cheney to avoid the subject of the report during his campaigning. The Kerry-Edwards team was, of course, quick to use it against the White House. In response, the vice president answered with his normal critical description of Kerry, "hesitation and uncertainty and confusion."

    In Fort Meyers, Cheney closed with a story of meeting active duty troops earlier in the year. One recounted to the vice president the biggest lesson he learned as a soldier — indecision kills. "When you think about sending our troops in harm's way, and what a president of the United States has to do and what he has to ask them to do for all of us, you don't need somebody in that position who is uncertain, hesitant or confused about what he believes," he said. "I think George Bush meets the test. I don't think John Kerry does."

    Kerry Deep In Debate Prep: Kerry is now in St Louis prepping for the debate. CBS News' Steve Chaggaris reports:

    Trail Byte: With just hours to go, John Kerry devoted more time Friday to preparing for the debate, after spending two days near Denver getting ready for his second of three showdowns with the President.

    Kerry advisers spent Thursday morning playing the expectations game again. This time, they seemed to contradict themselves, saying they expect President Bush to be in much better form but also saying they think he'll have a lot of trouble.

    "We're going to see a different President Bush at this debate," said Kerry campaign senior adviser Joe Lockhart, playing the usual game of boosting expectations for the challenger. "The town hall format is something that he has practiced. He can naturally connect to people as opposed to standing behind a podium."

    However, Kerry political consultant Mike Donilon strayed from the script a bit adding, "He has to not only have a good debate but an extraordinarily good debate. Just showing up and being OK is not enough."

    Kerry is expected to lay low Friday pre-debate, except for a walkthrough of the set at Washington University in St. Louis. Following the debate, he'll attend a rally before jetting off to Ohio and Florida on Saturday.

    While in Colorado on Thursday, Kerry emerged from his debate prep at the Inverness Hotel in Englewood to speak to reporters about Iraq and to take a few questions. A local reporter asked Kerry what he thought about the Colorado ballot initiative that would split the state's electoral votes based on how much of the popular vote each candidate received.

    This issue is of particular importance to the candidates this year since polls have shown Kerry neck-and-neck with Mr. Bush there. Clearly, if Kerry had no chance of winning Colorado, passage of the initiative would benefit him since he would receive some electoral votes in a state that he lost. However, if he actually winds up winning Colorado and the initiative passes, he'll only be entitled to a portion of the state's nine electoral votes, diminishing the effect of a Kerry upset there.

    He dodged the reporter's question saying, "Well, obviously I'd like to win all of Colorado's electoral votes. But I've always believed that those electoral votes belong to each state and it's up to each state to decide what they're going to do with them."

    Edwards From Bayonne to Scranton And Back To The Midwest: Senator John Edwards holds a town hall meeting in Scranton, Pa., focusing on the President's "wrong choices," before heading to Michigan for a pair of fundraisers. In the evening, the senator will watch his running mate debate President Bush from his Southfield, Mich., hotel. CBS News' Bonney Kapp reports:

    Trail Byte: "Which one's Cheney?" Jack Edwards whispered into his father's ear onstage following the vice presidential debate. This according to the senator, who revealed the anecdote on both "Live with Regis and Kelly" and "The View" on Thursday morning. Edwards reached out to the nationwide audience consisting mostly of women voters, even getting a chance to mention health care before appearing split screen with a photo of Tom Cruise (whom co-host Kelly Ripa suggested would play the candidate in a hypothetical movie).

    Edwards was joined on "The View" by his wife Elizabeth, who recounted telling Vice President Cheney after Tuesday's debate that he actually had met her husband before. A spokeswoman for the VP said as late as Wednesday that Cheney had no recollection of the 2001 encounter, but Mrs. Edwards quoted his response to her reminder onstage after the debate as, "Oh yeah."

    After discussing cologne on television (he doesn't wear any), Edwards switched gears and headed across the river to New Jersey, which the campaign maintains is not a battleground state. Red, blue, or shades in between, the candidate made his second trip to the state in two weeks, holding a town hall meeting in Bayonne.

    Edwards accepted the endorsement of five family members of victims of 9/11 at a cargo port just miles from where the World Trade Center once stood — the 115th such family members to sign on with the Democratic ticket. The Bush-Cheney campaign quickly sent out an e-mail reminding reporters that "it is important to report that President Bush has been endorsed by over 130 9/11 families."

    While Edwards spoke out strongly against the administration's record in Iraq and the war on terror, it may not have made the evening news broadcasts because his running mate held a press availability covering many of the same topics.

    Edwards reacted to his Republican counterpart's interpretation of the Duelfer report concluding there were never WMDs in Iraq, saying the VP used "convoluted logic" to use the report to justify their foreign policy decisions. He continued, "They are willing to say left is right, up is down. Here's the truth: the vice president, Dick Cheney, and the president, George W. Bush, need to recognize that the earth is actually round, that the sun rises in the east."

    Looking ahead to Friday's Kerry-Bush rematch, Edwards said the president has a "high bar" to meet. "Call me old fashioned, but I believe the President of the United States, in order to perform well in a debate, needs to do more than not screw up his face and needs to do more than be able to string a sentence together. He needs to come clean with the American people, he needs to level with this country," he said to cheers from an audience in agreement.

    Edwards demonstrated his political prowess during the town hall's Q&A, when a questioner asked if the president authorized an airplane to take bin Laden family members out of the country on Sept. 11, as claimed by Michael Moore in his controversial film, "Fahrenheit 9/11."

    "Is that true and if it is true, what was he thinking?" the woman asked. "I can't tell you what he was thinking," Edwards responded before citing the president's ties to the Saudi royal family and avoiding the question.

    Edwards spent his second night in the Garden State since becoming the Democratic candidate for vice president after he pulled in $750,000 at an evening fundraiser.

    Quote of the Day: "Sniveling Coward" — Ralph Nader's characterization of John Edwards in Tuesday's debate. In the spring, Nader urged Kerry to choose Edwards as his running mate. (AP)

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