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Washington Wrap

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

Wednesday's Headlines

*Final Debate
*Kerry Heads to Tempe
*Bush is Ready for Some Fun
*Edwards on Television
*Cheney Rolls On
*Clinton Does What He Can to Help Kerry
* Potential for Meltdown
*Quote of the Day

The Final Debate: The stakes are high for both candidates as they enter Wednesday night's third and final debate. As USA Today reports, "Although Bush was credited with a solid showing in the second debate last week in St. Louis, the gains Kerry has seen in state and national polls in the past two weeks underline the need for Bush to come across as presidential and in command."

The first debate in Cleveland focused on foreign policy issues, an area in which the president was considered stronger than Sen. Kerry. But with Iraq continually in the news, cutaways to Mr. Bush's facial expression during the debate, and Sen. Kerry's ability to stay within the time limits, Mr. Bush left Cleveland with uphill battle. USA Today quotes a political analyst at New York University, Paul Light, as saying, "This is his [Bush] third and final opportunity to say, 'I'm in charge of things and I know what I'm doing here.'"

Even with two completed debates, the race continues to be as close as ever. A new Zogby/Reuters tracking poll has Mr. Bush and Kerry in a dead heat with 45 percent each. The poll was conducted October 10th through October 12th with 1,232 likely voters and has a 2.9-point margin of error.

And while the pressure is on both candidates to prove they have what it takes to lead the country on domestic issues, the final outcome could come down to voter turnout. Frank Donatelli, President Reagan's former political director, told CBS News on Tuesday, "Both candidates are really seeking to rally their bases. I think both campaigns have decided there is a very small number of undecided voters and while of course they're going after those, I think both believe that the final result will be determined by which party's base turns out in greater numbers."

Kerry Heads to Tempe: Kerry flew to Arizona on Wednesday morning for the third and final Presidential Debate. CBS News' Steve Chaggaris reports:

Trail Byte: Kerry was spending the first part of Wednesday with his wife Teresa, relaxing prior to the debate. Late this evening, the candidate will stop at a post-debate rally before jetting to Las Vegas, where he'll address the AARP on Thursday

On Tuesday, Kerry took most of the day to prepare for the showdown. He was in a mock debate setting at his Santa Fe hotel for the better part of nine hours, running through domestic policy issues with attorney Greg Craig playing the role of Mr. Bush and adviser Bob Shrum and debate team director Ron Klain alternating as moderator Bob Schieffer.

Also on hand were domestic policy advisers Gene Sperling and Sarah Bianchi as well as Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who was there for the two days of preparation, which included at least five mock debates, according to a campaign aide.

Kerry took only two breaks on Tuesday, one for lunch and one for a 45-minute bike ride around Santa Fe, where when asked if he was ready for game one of the Red Sox-Yankees playoff he exclaimed, "That I'm ready for."

It seems he wasn't ready for the game, however. At 9:19 PM mountain time, the Massachusetts senator was spotted walking out of his debate prep, as the game was in the 8th inning and the Red Sox had cut a serious deficit to 8-7. When reporters who were hanging out in the hotel lobby asked Kerry what he thought of his home team's rally, he responded that he was "preparing," before darting into a waiting elevator. Aides later said he received updates about the game throughout the night.

While Kerry was behind closed doors getting ready for the face-off, his advisers were playing the expectations game. But this time, instead of lowering expectations for their candidate, there was an air of confidence, thanks to his performances in the first two debates.

"We, the collective here, cannot remember an incumbent who lost three consecutive debates in the minds of the public, and then went on to victory," adviser Joe Lockhart told reporters. "I think the pressure is on the president to salvage one debate victory out of the three. ... I think the stakes are high for both of us, but I think it's increasingly higher for the president."

Following the final debate, Kerry will attend a rally before jetting to Las Vegas, where he will speak to the AARP on Thursday. He'll then fly to Des Moines for a Thursday night rally before heading on to Wisconsin and Ohio on Friday where he'll campaign by bus in each state.

President Bush is Ready for Some Fun: CBS News' Mark Knoller reports:

Knoller Nugget: Not only does Mr. Bush say he's looking forward to the third and final debate, he says "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Fun? Did it look like anyone was having fun at the first or second debates?

Whether or not he enjoyed those earlier meetings, Mr. Bush acknowledges the stakes are high for the last debate, which represents the largest audience either candidate will have between now and Election Day to make a case directly to the American people.

At a GOP fund-raiser Tuesday on his arrival in Arizona, Mr. Bush said he can't wait to debate the issues of taxes, health care, education and the war on terrorism. He declared, "I have a good record to run on."

The president added, "We're on the move. Jobs are being created. There's a sense of optimism everywhere I go. Do you realize that there are more homeowners today than ever before? More minorities own their home than ever before in the history of the United States. What a fantastic statistic."

And he's ready to pounce on Kerry as a big "tax and spend" liberal. "What I'm going to tell the people ... is we're not going to go back to the days of tax and spend. We're not going to go back to the days where the, you know, kind of the vision of the economic policy is: 'We're going to take your money and we'll decide what to do with it.'"

In what sounds like a line he's likely to employ at the debate, Mr. Bush put his economic differences with Kerry this way: "You're not going to have fiscal sanity with John Kerry as the president. He's been the most liberal member of the United States Senate, which means he likes to spend your money. That's what that means. And he can try to run from his record. But I'm not going to let him hide."

On the issue of health care, the president says he's anxious to pounce on Kerry's claim in last Friday's debate that the government won't run his health care plan. "When he said that, I could barely contain myself," Mr. Bush said Tuesday, adding: "Of course, the government has something to do with his plan. It's the cornerstone of his plan. It's the crux of his health care policy to expand the federal government."

The way the president's strategists see it, if their man does well in the debate, it strengthens his bid for re-election going into the final stretch of the campaign. If he appears outdone by Kerry, then Mr. Bush still has nearly three weeks before Election Day to try to repair the damage.

To hear the president tell it, he's in fine fettle as he faces the campaign endgame.
"My spirits are high," he declares. "You know, I feel great."

He was certainly in good humor at that Arizona fund-raiser Tuesday. It was staged in a tent set up on a tennis court. But the air conditioning wasn't working properly, the tent was uncomfortably hot, and that served as a set-up for a swipe at Kerry:

"If the Senator has his way, this is the way every house will feel because he doesn't have an energy policy," Mr. Bush quipped.

Rare is the speech in which the president doesn't mention the First Lady and his love for her. He said he's often asked how the presidency affects their marriage.

"I said it strengthened our marriage. After all, I've only got a 45-second commute," he said referring to the walk from the White House residence to the Oval Office.

Earlier, Mr. Bush seemed ready to burst out a rendition of "Sunrise, Sunset" from "Fiddler on the Roof." That's the song in which a father and mother reflect on how rapidly time passes when raising children.

For the first time Tuesday, the president's daughter Jenna introduced her dad at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs.

"He has brought to our family the same values he has brought to this country: strength, compassion and integrity," she told 10,000 supporters.

The president called it "an unbelievable feeling." He went on, "I was sitting there watching that gracious young lady introduce me in front of 10,000 people, saying, 'My does time fly.' You know?"

He jokes that this campaign is taking the place of the father-daughter camping trip he promised his girls, but never delivered.

Edwards on Television: Sen. John Edwards holds a town hall meeting in Medford, Ore. on Wednesday as well as rallies in both Eugene and Portland. Edwards will watch the debate at the Hilton in Portland, appear on network TV following the debate, and then fly to Sioux City, Iowa late Wednesday night. CBS News' Bonney Kapp reports:

Trail Byte: Edwards went for a run in Burbank's Johnny Carson Park before appearing on "The Tonight Show," where Edwards used the late night venue to land a few punches. When asked by Jay Leno who would win a 5k race between Edwards and Mr. Bush, the senator joked, "Well you know I run and I played a little football back when I was in school, and the president I think was there at those football games too. He was, I think, on the side maybe with his pompoms." When the audience guffawed, Edwards added, "Can you run fast with those cheerleading outfits on? I don't know."

Later in the appearance, Edwards was questioned about the conspiracy theory that suggested the president wore a transmitter and earpiece during the first debate. "I think it was his battery," he suggested. "I think tomorrow before the debate, John Kerry ought to pat him down."

Not known for his zingers, Edwards was asked by Leno if he agreed the campaign had been "pretty nasty."

"Yeah, it's contentious, it's tough; but it should be tough if you look at what these guys have done to our country, this needs to be tough," Edwards answered.

In between jokes, Edwards also responded to the latest Republican ad attacking Kerry's characterization of terrorism as a "nuisance" in a recent New York Times interview. "It's a typical distortion, you know, taking a word out of context which is exactly what they've done over and over and over," Edwards said. "He wants to win the war on terrorism and get back to the place that wasn't so dominant in everybody's lives when they wake up every morning," he explained.

Edwards, his staff, and the traveling press screened a tape of the appearance during the flight from Burbank to San Francisco. Watching intently with a smile on his face, his biggest laugh came when Leno cut to video of Edwards speaking at a New Jersey port last week with superimposed images of John Kerry windsurfing behind him. "You know if I had to spend 90 minutes on a stage with George Bush, I'd want to clear my head too," Edwards told Leno.

Later that evening at his $1.5 million fundraiser in San Francisco, Edwards made a prediction for the final debate. "John Kerry is going to win the third debate just like he won the first two debates, and he's going to win because George Bush is out of touch."

En route from the fundraiser to the airport, Edwards' motorcade pulled up to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where a hotel workers union was picketing, chanting, "What do we want? Contract! When do we want it? Now!" The candidate shook strikers' hands and flashed a thumbs-up before heading to Medford on a late night flight. Originally intended to overnight in San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel, Edwards arrived at Medford's Rogue Regency Inn about 11:30 p.m. The last minute schedule change was "probably" because of the strike, according to the campaign.

Cheney Rolls On: It was back on the bus Wednesday for Vice President Dick Cheney, trading in the comfort of Air Force 2 for rolling campaign stops in Pennsylvania, followed by another bus tour Friday in Michigan. CBS News' Josh Gross reports the motorcade got off to a rocky start Wednesday when two Pennsylvania state police motorcycles were in an accident. Their injuries appeared to be minor.

Trail Byte: On Tuesday, Cheney surprised some and admitted a soft spot for Democrats. Not the Democrats running against him, though he did grant them his respect. But when asked by a young Republican in Rochester, Minn. about changing the minds of young Democrats, he answered with a little personal history.

"My folks were Democrats. Before I ran for Congress on the Republican ticket and needed every vote, I got them to re-register in the primary", he admitted. "And mom kind of liked being a Republican. Once she switched that was OK, she liked it. Dad always said, 'Well, this is conditional.' Every few years I had to renew it."

The vice president answered several questions at the event where he showed a little more personal reflection than he usually does at such speeches.
"Well, there's no question this is a hard-fought campaign this year, that when you're in the trench you're receiving incoming periodically. You adjust to all of that. It's appropriate that this should be a tough campaign, we should be taking on tough issues," he said.

Not necessarily looking for sympathy, he continued, "Obviously, there are certain things that people say out there occasionally about me that I think maybe go a bit far, but I don't think we ought to let the, when I look at it, sort of the noise in the system obscure the basic fundamental principles of what's going on there, the enormous privilege we have as Americans to participate in the political process."

The vice president has claimed in the past if he had not gone into politics he would have become a teacher. He is a huge fan of history, as is his wife Lynne, and in the past has peppered his addresses with references to "seventh century Caliphates" or Civil War battles. On Tuesday he drew parallels between the debates over the war on terror and the state of the nation during the last world war.

"If you think about contests in the past that took place amidst a great national emergency, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the middle of World War II, you'll find ample times when emotions have been high, when we've had important decisions to make, we managed to get on with our business and conduct the presidential campaign, make those national choices," Cheney said.

"That's really the hallmark of the greatness of our nation that we, in fact, have that opportunity, that we get out there and lots of times duke it up," he said. "You need a pretty thick skin for this business, without question."

Clinton to Record Phone Message for Kerry: Despite recovering from recent heart surgery, President Clinton will do his best to help the Kerry campaign during the last few weeks of the race, reports the Associated Press. While his slow recovery makes it unlikely that he can get out on the campaign trail, Mr. Clinton does plan on taping a phone message that will be sent into voters homes. It is also expected that the former president will record radio ads for Kerry.

For months, Mr. Clinton has kept in close contact with the Kerry campaign to offer his advice. Mike McCurry, who was press secretary in the Clinton White House and is now an advisor to Kerry, told the AP that Clinton offers everything from pointers for the debates to ideas on how to increase Democratic voter turnout. "He's giving good, wise, counsel," McCurry said.

Potential for Meltdown: Although everyone is hoping to avoid "another Florida" on Election Day, it now appears that all eyes may be on Pennsylvania instead. "Of the half-dozen swing states still considered battlegrounds, Pennsylvania has the most eclectic distribution of voting systems... Combined with highly decentralized election rules, the patchwork of voting technologies could make a broad, accurate recount difficult," reports The New York Times.

The state has tried at least to prepare for the problem. Gov. Ed Rendell signed a law "that would call for an automatic recount if the margin of victory in presidential races, as well as those for several statewide offices, is less than 0.5 percent." The General Assembly has also legislated uniform standards for examining ballots statewide. But even with those precautions, there may still be major issues on election night.

First, Pennsylvania has a new statewide voter registration file but it is struggling to deal with the number of new registrations. Second, new rules for provisional ballots are complicated and may confuse poll workers and voters alike. Third, even if ballots are cast easily, the state's different voting technologies make counting the ballots a challenge: "On Nov. 2, Pennsylvanians will use five voting methods: paper ballots, punch cards, lever machines, optical-scan systems and electronic systems," explains The Times. Those different systems also make an accurate recount more difficult to complete: Punch cards are much easier to recount physically than electronic systems with no paper trail, for example.

As pollster G. Terry Madonna told The Times, "If the race gets any tighter, we could have a nightmare scenario...If it comes down to 10,000 votes, what do you think is going to happen? Lawyers on both sides are sharpening their pencils and are poised to litigate."

Quote of the Day: "He said, 'Well, to be perfectly honest, I'm going to be watching the Red Sox and taping the debate to watch later.'" Matt Vogel, spokesman for Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., on his boss' plans for the evening. (Boston Globe).

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