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Washington Wrap

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Dotty Lynch, Beth Lester, Allison Davis, Lucy Kafanov, David Berlin 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

* Florida: Nader or Not?
* Ad Wars Continue
* Bush Has a Busy Weekend
* Cheney Quick on the Draw
* Kerry 's Halliburton Day
* Is Edwards Taking Mean Lessons?
* Bush and Kerry Think Military Vote Is Critical
* Election Observers to the U.S.

Florida: Nader or No Nader? The Florida Supreme Court held oral arguments Friday morning in the appeal case of Ralph Nader's placement on Florida's general election ballot. Nader is trying to gain access to Florida's November 2nd ballot as the Reform Party's candidate. A lower court in Florida had ruled that the Reform party is not a legitimate party and Ralph Nader's name should be stricken from the ballot.

The Florida Supreme Court, the same court that was intimately involved in the 2000 election recount, must hand down its ruling by the end of the day Friday since Saturday is the deadline for mailing absentee ballots overseas with or without Nader's name.

In 2000, Ralph Nader ran for president in Florida as the Green Party candidate. He received some 97,000 votes. In the past two weeks, Nader has been on and off Florida's ballot. Friday's court action is an effort by the Nader team to regain access for a third time.

In a conversation with CBS News, Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said, "This whole thing is ridiculous. It is like the Catholics judging the Lutherans to say that they are not a real religion because they can't afford a Vatican."

The New York Times reports that Sen. John McCain has also weighed in on the issue, calling for the Florida Supreme Court to permit Nader's name on the ballot. Senator McCain is chairman of the Reform Institute's Advisory Committee, a not-for-profit organization focusing on election administration and finance reform. In a statement McCain said, "Keeping Nader off the ballot in the hope that his voters will be forced to support another candidate is patently unfair to those Floridians who, for whatever reason, have decided he's their man."

Ad Wars Continue: With just 46 days until the election on November 2, there are new entrants in the ad wars. On the Bush-Cheney side, the campaign released a new television ad called "Common Sense Vs. Higher Taxes." The 30-second spot attacks Kerry on the economy saying, "The Liberals in Congress and Kerry's Plan: Raises taxes on small business. 900,000 small business owners would pay higher tax rates than most multinational corporations." The ad is the second one this week to tie Kerry to Democrats in Congress: the first one did so on the subject of health care saying, in eerily similar phrasing, "The Liberals in Congress and Kerry's Plan: Washington bureaucrats in control. A government-run healthcare plan. 1.5 trillion dollar price tag." Though the Bush-Cheney campaign declined to give specifics about the buy, it will "run on national cable and in select local markets." State-specific versions will also air in Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia.

On the Democratic side, the Kerry-Edwards campaign released an ad attacking Vice President Cheney in rather pointed terms. The ad, called "Cheney Halliburton," begins with a clip of Cheney saying, "I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't had now for over three years." The ad then has a narrator saying, "The truth: As vice president, Dick Cheney received $2 million from Halliburton. Halliburton got billions in no bid contracts in Iraq. Dick Cheney got $2 million. What did we get? A $200 billion dollar bill for Iraq." Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton tells CBS News that "when Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton, is making record profits. There's just something that stinks about this." The ad will begin running in Oregon in time for the Vice President's arrival there on Friday and will air in "nationwide battleground states" next week.

And in other news, look for a new Swift Boat ad out late Friday night on the subject of John Kerry's medals.

Bush Has a Busy Weekend: President Bush has a busy Friday and will be working hard over the weekend using some of his presidential prerogatives in key battleground states. CBS News' Mark Knoller reports:

Knoller Nuggett: The president helps the Republican National Committee raise additional millions Friday at a fund-raising event in Washington, DC and then it's off to North Carolina, a state he won in 2000 and needs to keep in his win column in November. Mr. Bush will address a campaign event there billed as a "Focus On Women's Issues."

Bush then attends another GOP fund-raiser to benefit the party and Republican Senate candidate Richard Burr, a congressman running against democrat Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. It will be late Friday night by the time the President gets to his folks' place in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he'll stay until Sunday morning.

Mr. Bush was scheduled to attend the opening of the Sylvania 300 NASCAR Race at the New Hampshire International Speedway on Sunday but that appearance has been scrubbed so Mr. Bush could travel south to inspect hurricane damage in Alabama and Florida.

There's no denying the election season lights a fire under government agencies and the president to whom they report. Within hours of Hurricane Ivan making landfall, President Bush issued disaster declarations for Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. The action clears the way for billions in federal relief and reconstruction assistance. At campaign events yesterday in Minnesota, Mr. Bush urged his supporters to offer prayers for the victims of Ivan and for their families.

Leaving the hurricane season aside briefly, one day after John Kerry blasted the president for not saying how things really are Iraq, Mr. Bush acknowledged the self-evident in the latest exchange of fire on that subject. "There's a lot of violence in Iraq, I understand that," said Mr. Bush to a rally Thursday in Rochester, Minnesota. But he went on to paint an optimistic picture, saying "Iraq now has a strong Prime Minister – a national council and national elections are scheduled in January."

Mr. Bush also got in a pre-emptive strike at Kerry before he addressed the National Guard Association convention in Las Vegas, the same group to which Mr. Bush spoke on Tuesday. Again portraying Kerry as a flip-flop artist on Iraq, Mr. Bush said: "The fella I'm runing against has probably had about eight positions on Iraq. (The Bush campaign issued a statement putting the number of variations at nine.)

The president referred to Kerry's appearance on the Don Imus radio show Wednesday, in which Kerry said there were now no circumstances under which he would have launched an invasion of Iraq. The president said Kerry's mixed signals "are the wrong signals to send to our troops in the field, the Iraqi people, to our allies, and most of all to our enemies." Mr. Bush declared, "it is critical that the President of the United States speak clearly and consistently at this time of great threat in the world – and not change positions because of expediency or pressure."

Cheney Quick on the Draw: Vice President Dick Cheney does a town hall meeting in Oregon City and a rally in Eugene, Oregon on Friday. CBS News' Josh Gross reports on how VP Cheney speeded up his attacks on John Kerry.

Trail Byte: A perfect example of why Vice President Cheney has developed the reputation as being the "attack dog" during this election year came on Thursday somewhere between Albuquerque, N.M., and Reno, Nev., several thousand feet in the air. Between these two campaign stops, Cheney and his staff drafted a biting response to the speech John Kerry had just delivered to a gathering of the National Guard.

At a speech in Las Vegas, Kerry told the National Guard Association Conference that they deserve to be told exactly what is happening in the war on terror. "We owe you the truth. True leadership is about looking people in the eye and telling the truth – even when it's hard to hear," he told the crowd. "And two days ago, President Bush came before you and you received him well, as you should. But I believe he failed the fundamental test of leadership. He failed to tell you the truth. You deserve better."

He finished by explaining how he would communicate with them, if he wins the election. "And two days ago, President Bush came before you and you received him well, as you should. But I believe he failed the fundamental test of leadership. He failed to tell you the truth. You deserve better."

For a response, the Bush/Cheney ticket was quick to react. The vice president's staff was seen huddling in the front of the Air Force Two as it cruised to Reno for a pre-planned rally. Minutes before the wheels touched down, members of the press were presented with a carefully drafted addition to Cheney's standard stump speech.

Kerry had delivered his speech in Las Vegas around 3:45 EDT. At about 6:30 EDT in Reno, the vice president responded in kind.

"Senator Kerry said today that leadership starts with telling the truth," he began. "The America people also know that true leadership requires the ability to make a decision. True leadership is sticking with the decision in the face of political pressure, and true leadership is standing for your principles regardless of your audience or your most recent political advisors."

Cheney then focused the speech back on Kerry's perceived inability to express a steady position on the war in Iraq. "Senator Kerry today said he would always be straight with the American people on the good days and on the bad days. In Senator Kerry's case, that means when the headlines are good, he's for the war. And when his poll numbers are bad, he's against it."

As Election Day gets closer expect to see more of this instant response from the vice president. His speeches are structured so additions can be inserted seamlessly and each new audience will feel the speech was written just for them.

Kerry 's Halliburton Day: On Friday, Kerry's message on the stump matches his new paid ad: the theme is Dick Cheney, Halliburton and Kerry's plan for reforming the ways defense contracts are allocated. CBS News' Steve Chaggaris reports:

Trail Byte: Kerry is in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a second day on Friday where he will focus his attention on Vice President Cheney and discuss his proposals for reforming the defense contract process.

A campaign aide said that Kerry's remarks will be a "very tough critique" of Cheney and his connection to "Hallburton's no-bid contracts in Iraq that resulted in windfall profits."

The speech comes after Kerry spent Thursday ratcheting up his criticism of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war. He all but called the president a liar at the National Guard convention in Vegas and later, at last night's Albuquerque rally, he accused Bush of trying to mislead the public about the current state of Iraq. "The president runs around sugarcoating this thing every day and we've lost 1,000 people," Kerry said.

Next week, Kerry will make the non-newsy talk show rounds, as he will appear on "Late Show with David Letterman", "Dr. Phil", and "Live with Regis and Kelly."

His forays next week will be his first visits to these types of shows since he was on Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" on August 24. Kerry's less than smashing performance there, and his appearance on "The Tonight Show" last November where he was mocked during by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog ("The poop I left in the dressing room has more heat coming off it than his campaign"), begs the question: Why is Kerry doing these shows?

A campaign official said, "It's kind of like what Ma Barker said about robbing banks: that's where the money is. Americans tune into these shows.

"The reward is greater than the risk. They all have enormous viewerships that tune in to take the measure of a candidate," the official insisted.

Meantime, Kerry's beloved Boston Red Sox play the New York Yankees in a three-game series beginning tonight in the Bronx. While Kerry will miss Friday' matchup - he'll be traveling to Boston - and most of Saturday, when he will be attending a fund-raiser in Beantown, spokesman David Wade said that the senator will "absolutely" watch as much of the series as he can.

And Wade, who is never afraid that he's spinning too much, offered his politically slanted take on the high-stakes Sox-Yanks weekend.

"The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is a lot like this presidential campaign. Big money and the privileged on the one side, trying to hold on to their evil empire, fighting against the scrappy underdogs, who are trying to level the playing field for the hardworking city of Boston."

Is Edwards Taking Mean Lessons? John Edwards is back in Washington, D.C., for a couple of days amidst calls that he needs to play a more aggressive role in the campaign by attacking the Bush-Cheney ticket. CBS News' Bonney Kapp reports that the on-message candidate might be ready for a new uh, uh, message.

Trail Byte: Because John Edwards is known for consistently staying on message and not deviating from the script, some in the press raised their eyebrows when he flubbed a standard line at his first campaign stop Thursday at an "off the record" rally in Piketon, Ohio. "If you love the Republican Party and George Bush so much that you're willing to take another four years of people losing their healthcare, millions of people losing their jobs, millions of people going into uh, uh," he stammered, blanking on the last word. In a public display of regrouping, Edwards rewound and sped through his list out loud until he remembered there were "millions of people falling into poverty."

En route to his Portsmouth, Ohio rally, press were told to expect Edwards to speak about the administration's failed healthcare policies, implying there would be a new thought in his consistent speech. Instead, the candidate stuck with what was familiar, subscribing to a "no news is good news" philosophy.

"You may not know this but George Bush is in Minnesota today giving a speech about his healthcare plan," Edwards began. "I understand it's a very short speech. You know the best I can tell, George Bush's healthcare plan for the last four years has been pray you don't get sick," he continued.

Save for the name of the state, it was a recycled line from earlier this week when Edwards noted the president's Michigan speech on healthcare. The new material—"His new healthcare plan is pay more, get less, right?"

Following his Ohio bus tour, Edwards headed south to Kentucky. Arriving at the Louisville airport, where a hundred or so greeters were expected to catch a glimpse and possibly a handshake from their candidate, more than a thousand had gathered. The larger and louder than expected crowd crammed into an empty hangar and was treated to an impromptu rally, where Edwards took a bullhorn to shout the 5-minute version of his stump. His message may not have been new, but the audience was: this was Edwards' first visit to Kentucky as candidate for vice president.

Despite the crowd's optimistic chant of "Take back Kentucky!" it is far from being categorized as a battleground state. The candidate might not be able to walk away with any electoral votes from Kentucky, but he did take in $750,000 for the DNC in exchange for his patented 15-minute speech.

After a 2-hour mechanical delay, the Edwards campaign plane landed at Dulles Airport after 12:30am. Luckily there are no early calls for the senator Friday or Saturday: he is down in his Georgetown home with no public events.

Bush and Kerry Think Military Vote is Critical: Both presidential campaigns are ramping up efforts to win support from the military, reports the Los Angles Times. Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards are trying especially hard to earn the military vote in critical swing states like Pennsylvania, where more than 15,000 reservists are serving or have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom are undecided.

Historically, service members have tended to vote Republican. A December poll by the Army Times found that more military personnel supported the current Administration then did not. But respondents of the poll were mostly older, career soldiers, rather than enlisted personnel who are 35 percent Black and Latino, voters who Kerry is targeting.

Thus far, military imagery has been central to both campaigns, with numerous retired generals speaking at the Democratic and Republican Conventions. The Bush campaign is also very aware that overseas military absentee ballots were vital in winning Florida, a swing state in the 2000 election.

With the military vote seemingly up for grabs, do not expect either candidate to back off, Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, told the LA Times. "This time around, the Democrats are convinced that the advantage among military voters won't be nearly as big for the GOP," he said. "In a post- 9/11 election, how can the Democrats show that they're tough on national security? If they can win the military and veterans endorsement race, then that can serve symbolically as proof that they are good on national security."

Third World Move Over: For the first time in U.S. history, foreign observers have been officially invited by the State Department to observe and protect the integrity of the nation's elections.

The Associated Press reports that Global Exchange will send a team of skilled election monitors next week to Florida, Ohio, Arizona, and Georgia to meet with voters and election officials and to issue a report based on their observations. Their report will focus the voter registration process, voting machines, disenfranchisement and other election issues. A smaller group will return in November to monitor the election.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the largest security organization in the world whose membership includes nations like Canada, Bosnia, Iceland, and Uzbekistan, was also officially invited by the State Department to deploy observer teams from its office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

The effort to bring OSCE to the U.S. was spearheaded by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Tex. In early July, she and twelve members of Congress wrote a letter to Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, expressing their worries about the upcoming election. Though U.N. turned down the request on the grounds that it did not come from the US Administration, the Congressmen then successfully appealed to Secretary of State Colin Powell. As a result, Assistant Secretary of State Paul Kelly notified the Congressmen in early August about the decision to invite members of the OSCE.

"We are hoping that our action will alleviate the nation from the suffering it took in 2000 when things went awry at the ballot box," said Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson in a press release.

Some Republican Representatives are less than thrilled with Johnson's efforts. Representatives Lamar Smith and Ron Paul, both R-Tex., have issued statements criticizing the decision to invite OSCE.

"We should be wary about organizations like the OSCE that seek to involve themselves in our electoral process," said Rep. Paul, according to a statement issued by conservative think tank American Policy Center. "The OSCE in particular has a terrible record in the newly-democratic countries of central Europe, where it normally operates. According to groups that follow the conduct of the OSCE, this organization does much more to undermine free elections than to promote them."

Quote of the Day: "Kerry's windsurfing, going skiing, and his sports equipment is too tight. I think he's too fit. He's got one of those stomachs where the shirt goes straight down into his pants -- and Americans like their politicians with a bit more flab on them." --Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter talking about the proportions of John Kerry. (New York Daily News)