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Washington Wrap

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

Thursday's Headlines

* Kerry's Turn at the National Guard

* Where's John O?

* Bush Turns to Heath Care

* Forcing the Debates

* FEC Can Continue at Snail's Pace

Kerry's Turn at the National Guard: Sen. John Kerry will address the Annual Conference of the National Guard in Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon and charge that the president is "sugar-coating" the situation in Iraq. Also on Thursday, MoveOn.org starts airing an ad that says "it will take a new President to get us out of the quagmire in Iraq."

The Kerry campaign, never content with just one issue a day, also released an ad, this one on health care, attacking President Bush's record on the issue that he will talk about on Thursday.

CBS News' Steve Chaggaris reports:

Trail Byte: "I am absolutely taking the gloves off," Kerry told Don Imus on Wednesday morning. But, if Kerry meant he was going to fight dirty, there's yet to be any indication of that.

Aides say that in Thursday's speech to the National Guard convention, Kerry will continue to lay out his differences with Bush without mentioning the questions surrounding President Bush's service in the Guard. It's worth noting that Kerry will be accompanied by Gen. Wesley Clark, who called the president "incompetent" in his last outing with Kerry a few weeks ago in Tacoma, Washington.

Kerry's focus, however, will be on military reform "so that we never face a situation like today that half the guard are on active duty and that they are overextended," according to a campaign official. Kerry will again accuse Bush of misleading Americans on Iraq and say that he "needs to tell the truth about Iraq," the official said.

Wednesday, Kerry unveiled a new line of attack on President Bush's economic record, labeling his tenure as "the excuse presidency: never wrong, never responsible, never to blame," during a speech to the Detroit Economic Club.

The senator was fairly well-received at the Detroit speech considering he was delivering a heavily pro-average American speech to a group of executives and businesspeople.

At one point, in an interesting moment when he directly connected with his not-so-average-American audience, Kerry strayed from his prepared remarks and said that well-off folks like themselves and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who introduced Kerry, didn't need President Bush's tax cut.

"I'm here with my friend Bob Rubin. And if people like Bob Rubin and me and many of you here today did not get that tax cut, as much as we like it, and instead that money was invested in health care and education and job creation for the great middle class of our country, we would be stronger as a country today."

After Kerry speaks to the National Guard in Las Vegas Thursday – his sixth day in Nevada this year – he heads to Albuquerque (his seventh visit to New Mexico) for a rally and a town hall meeting Friday morning. Later on Friday, he will hold another town hall in Aurora, Colorado (his fourth trip to Colorado) before heading to Boston for the weekend.

Where's John-O? During Senator Kerry's interview with Don Imus yesterday morning, Imus joked about the lack of presence from Vice Presidential nominee, John Edwards. "I wondered if he was still on the ticket. We haven't heard from him," Imus said.

The New York Times reports that Senator Edwards' role on the Democratic ticket is under scrutiny by some well-known Democrats. The front-page article quotes Donna Brazile as saying, "He needs to put a little Tabasco in his message."

For its part, the Edwards camp says it relies on local newspapers and television to spread the Kerry-Edwards message in local markets. But those markets have so far been much smaller than Senator Kerry's campaign visits. Mr. Edwards is drawing the crowds but not necessarily the national coverage. For example, the last time that the CBS Evening News aired sound from Senator Edwards was in a piece on August 30th. And that was in response to a strongly worded comment by Vice President Cheney. Edwards was interviewed on CBS' The Early Show on Thursday, September 2nd, when he represented the Kerry campaign on all of the networks.

The Edwards camp points to an article from Thursday's Ohio University paper, The Post as an example of the success of their the regional strategy. Edwards was featured in a front page article detailing his Wednesday tour through southern Ohio, including a picture of the Senator's rally in Athens, Ohio. It is this type of media coverage which seems to satisfy those on Mr. Edwards' staff but, as the New York Times reports, not the party at large. Adam Nagourney writes, "That Mr. Edwards finds his role being questioned by prominent Democrats reflects how the playing field has changed in the 10 weeks since Mr. Kerry turned to him."

When asked if the campaign was at all concerned about the New York Times article, Mr. Edwards' campaign spokesperson, Mark Kornblau told CBS News, "I don't think that the New York Times has a larger distribution [than Ohio University's Post] in Southern Ohio, where the election will be decided."

We here at the Washington Wrap cover the vice presidential candidate every day with dispatches from our CBS News reporter Bonney Kapp, traveling with the Edwards campaign. Here is her report from Ohio:

Trail Byte: In Parkersburg, W. Va., Wednesday, John Edwards held a town hall meeting geared towards jobs and the economy with invited residents affected by local companies shutting their doors.

In his opening remarks, Edwards noted the president's visit to the town just days before. "George Bush rolls through town telling you how great the economy's doing, everybody's doing great, three days later, Walker [Systems] shuts down, right?" he said, referring to a local plant that just announced it was closing after 40 years. "This is not the way it's supposed to be in this country," he continued.

When the candidate opened the floor to questions, the issue of jobs was not the focus, however. Of the five questions asked, three were on Iraq. Barbara Haught began by admitting she was invited to the event because she recently lost her job after 26 years. "But my son called me this morning from Iraq and I told him I was coming here today and he told me if I had a chance to please ask you a question," she continued.

Haught's son, Brian McGee,is a technical staff sergeant with the U.S. Air Force; his convoy came under fire in Iraq five days ago and three of his fellow soldiers were killed. "He asks you, what do you and Kerry intend to do about armoring our vehicles?"

"When men and women are sent into battle to defend and protect the United States of America, they deserve every tool possible to keep them safe, to be successful, to make sure that we win," Edwards responded. He did not address his Senate vote against the president's request for $87 billion, which the administration claimed was for exactly this purpose.

En route to his evening rally in Athens, Ohio, Edwards' motorcade headed to three "off the record" stops in Ohio and West Virginia. The candidate stopped by a tavern at lunchtime to talk with locals about jobs and healthcare, held a short rally from the back of a pickup truck outside a steelworkers' union hall, and toured a teen center at a community center in Ohio's poorest county.

According to the campaign, Edwards is fulfilling "one of his roles" as Kerry's running mate: to connect with small town voters, which he clearly did at Harmar Tavern in Marietta, Ohio. When urged to try the bologna sandwich by a couple of elderly patrons, Edwards confided, "Bologna's not bad—I had a lot of bologna sandwiches growing up."

Edwards' day culminated at a rally on Ohio University's campus, where the senator delivered his stump speech to a crowd of some 7,000, not including the large group of protestors outside the rally, loudly chanting "Four more years."

While hammering the Bush tax cuts, Edwards acknowledged the protestors' presence and quipped, the tax relief benefited multimillionaires "including those folks that are chanting back there, right?"

"What do you think—four more years of tax cuts for multimillionaires? Four more years of high gasoline prices and record profits for oil companies?" Edwards asked the booing crowd. "Four more years of a president and vice president who stand for the oil companies, the drug companies, and the insurance companies of America? Here's what all of us know—we can do better and we will do better with John Kerry as our president."

Ohio University sophomore (and accused multi-millionaire) Matthew Smith was among those protestors who were told to keep moving by police securing the rally site. "He told us to leave because it was private property," Smith said. "We all go to this school; we all pay for this school. How are they telling us its private property? Isn't that a violation of our first amendment rights, freedom to assemble, freedom of speech?"

Edwards continues his bus tour through the battleground state of Ohio Thursday with a rally in Portsmouth, the same town where the president spoke less than a week ago.

Bush Turns to Health Care: Health care, an issue on which Bush polls less strongly than does John Kerry, is the president's focus this Thursday. On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson used a government event to criticize Kerry for his recent attacks on the Bush administration's management of Medicare. Also on Wednesday, CMS head Mark McClellan held a conference call with network political reporters to "set the record straight" about information put out by John Kerry and other Democrats on Medicare reimbursement.

CBS News' Mark Knoller is with the president:

Knoller Nuggett:The Bush campaign's target of the day is Minnesota. The president is back on his campaign bus, taking a re-election drive through the southeastern part of the state.

His twelfth visit to Minnesota (and fifth one this year) takes him to political events in St. Cloud, Blaine and Rochester. Candidate Bush lost Minnesota in 2000, but by less than 2.5 percent of the vote and the Bush campaign is making an aggressive effort to win the state and its ten electoral votes.

A new statewide poll by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, shows the president gaining ground on John Kerry's lead in the state. The survey shows that "likely voters" are split between Kerry and Mr. Bush by a margin of 50-to-41 percent. That reflects a 3% increase for the president from March, the last time this poll was conducted.

More than anything else, the president's visits to the state are meant to energize his grassroots operations to get supporters registered. And Mr. Bush reminds his activists to include independents and "discerning Democrats," a phrase used by Dwight Eisenhower in his bid for a second term in 1956.

In fact, it sounds like Eisenhower adopted the philosophy of "compassionate conservatism" nearly half a century before Mr. Bush. Addressing the Republican National Convention 48 years ago, Eisenhower said, "Republicans have proved that it is possible for a government to have a warm, sensitive concern for the everyday needs of people, while steering clear of the paternalistic "Big-Brother-is-watching-you" kind of interference."

Everything old is new again.

Thursday marks President Bush's 14th campaign bus trip this year. A look at the list below is a revealing blueprint of the states the Bush campaign re-election strategy deems most important:

BUSH CAMPAIGN BUS TRIPS - 2004

1. May 3 - Indiana, Michigan
2. May 4 – Ohio
3. May 7 – Iowa, Wisconsin
4. July 9 – Pennsylvania
5. July 14 – Wisconsin
6. July 31 – Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania
7. August 10 – Florida (panhandle)
8. August 18 – Wisconsin, Minnesota
9. August 28 – Ohio
10. September 4 – Ohio, Pennsylvania
11. September 7 – Missouri
12. September 10 – West Virginia, Ohio
13. September 13 – Michigan
14. September 16 - Minnesota

Forcing the Debates: In an attempt to force the issue, on Wednesday the Commission on Presidential Debates sent a letter to both presidential campaigns setting a deadline of September 20 for an initial meeting. The first debate is scheduled to take place on September 30 at the University of Miami.

In the letter, the Commission writes, "As you know, the CPD's sites and dates were announced in November, 2003. Since that time, the University of Miami, Case Western Reserve University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Arizona State University have spent substantial resources on preparation. While more than ten months of preparation have gone into the four debate halls, the universities, television networks, security officials and the CPD need at least ten days for final configuration and testing of the production elements. The sites' media filing centers, where 2,500 journalists will work, also require extensive installation of communication equipment. Without this preparation and rehearsal time, the CPD cannot guarantee that the American public will see and hear debates of the quality they expect."

Although the commission's letter is ostensibly about logistical preparations, it is also a none-too-subtle attempt to nudge the campaigns into discussions on the whole debate package. The Kerry-Edwards campaign has accepted all four (three presidential, one vice presidential) of the commission's proposed debates. The Bush-Cheney campaign is said to favor just two presidential debates and one vice presidential, worried that the town hall format proposed for the second presidential debate might have an audience stacked with Democrats. The commission's letter addresses that concern directly saying, "The Gallup Organization is ready to recruit undecided voters in the St. Louis, MO metropolitan area for the town meeting debate, a format that has proved most popular with the American public." Stay tuned as the debate over debates heats up.

FEC Can Continue at a Snail's Pace: Fuelling yet failing to resolve the ongoing debate over "527s", U.S. District Judge James Robertson Wednesday rejected the Bush campaign's request to force the Federal Election Commission to act against anti-Bush independent advocacy groups.

The Bush campaign filed its complaint with the FEC in March, accusing advocacy groups such as MoveOn.org and Media Fund of illegally coordinating their efforts with Sen. John Kerry's campaign. On September 1st, the campaign filed a suit against the FEC in an attempt to force a quicker resolution to their earlier complaints, stating that the campaign suffered "irreparable harm" because of the activities.

In his ruling, Judge Robertson said that under the law he is unable to demand that the FEC speed up its decision process. He did however issue his rejection from the bench in order to allow the Bush campaign to appeal immediately.

"The FEC moves with glacial speed, but that's the way Congress set it up, because that's apparently the way Congress likes it," Judge Robertson told Bush's attorneys, the Washington Post reports.

Bush lawyers are pledging to keep fighting this issue. "It's not over. We are going to pursue this," Bush campaign lawyer Tom Josefiak told the Boston Globe. "The president is committed to do something to regulate the 527s."

Some 527 groups are also directing their attacks towards Kerry. The most prominent of these groups, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, are mounting an ad campaign attacking Kerry's record in Vietnam.

Quote of the Day: "Clothing is wonderful, but let them go naked for a while, at least the kids." --Teresa Heinz Kerry urging hurricane relief volunteers to send water and generators before clothing. (AP)