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Washington Wrap

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

Wednesday's Headlines

* Debating the Debate
* New Swift Boat Ad
* Blowing in the Wind
* No Michigan Town Hall For Cheney
* Kerry Back in Forida
* Edwards Back To His Roots
* Democrats Attempt to Muster Strength in the Senate
* Three DeLay Aides Indicted For Illegal Fund-Raising

The Debate Commission Debates the Debate: It seems that the presidential debate agreements are not exactly finalized. Although both major campaigns have agreed, The New York Times reports that the Commission on Presidential Debates is hesitant to sign the 32-page agreement regarding details of the debates by Wednesday. "The new requirement that the independent commission as well as the four journalists selected to moderate the debates sign onto the pact between the two candidates has made some people involved in the process uncomfortable." The Democrats say the idea of the additional signatures originated from the Bush team. The New York Times article quotes the Republican co-chairman of the commission Frank J. Fahrenkopf as saying, "At this point in time, we're not sure we will sign the agreement. It really is an agreement between the two parties."

Another sticking point that has yet to be resolved in the agreement is whether or not the audience and viewers at home should be able to see the timing lights, "The Bush campaign pushed to have the lights visible to the audience and accompanied with audible cues, perhaps because of Mr. Kerry's penchant for long answers," says the Times. But one debate expert said, "The candidates are going to end up looking like game show hosts" if the flashing lights are approved.

After these issues are resolved, the debate could very well be a turning point in this election. A Pew Research Center poll recently found that "Six-in-ten voters (61%) say it is very likely they will watch the debates between Bush and Kerry, which is significantly higher than debate interest in the last two elections." Senator Kerry is taking four days off before the first debate, schedule for September 30th, to relax and prep at a resort in Wisconsin. President Bush has been prepping since the summer with New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg playing the role of John Kerry.

Swift Boat Goes to Paris: Swinging for the fences, the anti-Kerry 527 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth announced a new ad Wednesday morning that will run to the tune of $1.3 million, the group's biggest single buy to date. The ad, called "Friends," features photos of John Kerry inter-cut with shots of actress Jane Fonda and other anti-Vietnam demonstrators. The announcer intones, "Even before Jane Fonda went to Hanoi to meet with the enemy and mock America, John Kerry secretly met with enemy leaders in Paris…Eventually Jane Fonda apologized for her activities, but John Kerry refuses to…In a time of war, can America trust a man who betrayed his country?" This is the sixth ad from the group and Swift Boat spokesman Sean McCabe tells CBS News that the buy makes the group's ad budget, "more than $4 million." "Friends" will run in Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.

The decision to focus on Kerry's trip to Paris "highlights a continuing pattern by Sen. Kerry of placing his personal ambitions above the interests of our nation," John O'Neill, one of the Swift Boat leaders and long-time Kerry foe, said in a statement. "When he secretly met with the enemy in 1970, he did so at great detriment to his fellow sailors, to our POWs, and to our nation. He undermined our war effort, giving the enemy greater resolve and determination."

Kerry himself has not made a secret of his trip to Paris. As the Washington Post reports, Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April of 1971 that he made the trip. "Kerry's campaign said earlier this year that he met on the trip with Nguyen Thi Binh, then foreign minister of the PRG and a top negotiator at the talks. Kerry acknowledged in that testimony that even going to the peace talks as a private citizen was at the 'borderline' of what was permissible under U.S. law, which forbids citizens from negotiating treaties with foreign governments. But his campaign said he never engaged in negotiations or attended any formal sessions of the talks."

In other ad war news, the anti-Bush 527 Texans for Truth released its own ad called "Honor." The ad will air for $100,000 in markets in Harrisburg, Pa.; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; Portland, Ore.; and Phoenix. The ad will also air on national cable. The ad calls on President Bush to release all of his military records in advance of the first debate on September 30 and says in part, "George Bush walked away from his duty to the nation and to the National Guard. His father got him into the guard and out of the guard.

Mr. President, you owe our troops an explanation. You pledged to release all of your military records. But you've not signed the papers to do so. Sign them now. Keep your word. Choose honor."

Blowing in the Wind: President Bush is in Pennsylvania on Wednesday for his 37th visit since becoming President. CBS News' Mark Knoller, who keeps score, notes that 37 is "more visits to Pennsylvania than Mr. Bush has made to any other state but Texas (his home state), Maryland and Virginia (D.C.'s neighbors)." In Pennsylvania, Bush will attend rallies in King of Prussia and Latrobe. He will also inspect storm damage inflicted the other day by what was once Hurricane Ivan. The president has already issued a disaster declaration for Pennsylvania, authorizing federal assistance for hard-hit areas of the state.

Meanwhile, the Bush-Cheney campaign unveiled a new ad marrying a stinging visual with a favorite attack on John Kerry. The new ad, called "Windsurfing," highlights John Kerry's tendency to go whichever way the wind blows on Iraq, education reform and health care. The ad uses pictures of Kerry tacking back and forth across the ocean on a windsurfer in Nantucket on the opening day of the GOP convention.

CBS News' Knoller reports on a more somber Bush day on Tuesday in NY:

Knoller Nugget: Before ending his United Nations campaign swing, President Bush has a final diplomatic get-together: a morning meeting with Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan on Wednesday.

Once viewed by the U.S. as a military opportunist who overthrew a civilian president, Musharraf is now warmly embraced as an ally in the War on Terrorism. If Osama bin-Laden is ever to be captured, U.S. officials think it will be with the help of Musharraf's forces. Musharraf is also being pressed by Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to contribute troops to the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq.

The meeting with Musharraf comes after Bush spoke to the U.N. on Tuesday, where the General Assembly proved to be a tough room for the President. He delivered his 35-minute speech in 26 minutes. It helped that not once during his speech did the representatives of the UN's 191 member nations interrupt Mr. Bush with applause.

The same lines about ousting Saddam and staying the course in Iraq always get Mr. Bush an eruption of thunderous cheers at his campaign rallies, but at the U.N. yesterday the response was dead silence.

Most of the UN members opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and their response to
Mr. Bush reflected that. He was received politely, but far from warmly. Yet it didn't stop the president from ardently defending his policies on Iraq. He said Iraq and Afghanistan are on the path to freedom and democracy. And he vowed that the U.S. "will stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes for freedom and security are fulfilled." He urged all U.N. member nations to do the same.

There was no applause either from John Kerry. He charged that Mr. Bush failed to level with the U.N. about the situation in Iraq. The president gave Kerry the verbal back of his hand, declaring that, "my opponent has taken so many different positions on Iraq that his statements are hardly credible at all."

In other news from Bush, though the U.S. government spends upwards of $40 billion dollars a year on intelligence- gathering, Bush said the CIA was only "guessing" when it painted a bleak picture of where Iraq might be headed. The worst-case scenario in the National Intelligence Estimate could be civil war. Bush was responding to a question about the NIE given him over the summer, parts of which were leaked to the New York Times last week.

The president made clear he doesn't put much stock in the CIA's analysis. "The CIA laid out several scenarios that said, life could be lousy, like could be okay, life could be better. And they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like. The Iraqi citizens are defying the pessimistic predictions. The Iraqi citizens are headed toward free elections. This government has been in place for a little over two months, and the Iraqi citizens are seeing a determined effort by responsible citizens to lead to a more hopeful tomorrow. And I am optimistic we'll succeed."

Cheney Cancels a Michigan Town Hall: Either because he had scheduling conflicts, or because he just wanted a day at home, Vice President Dick Cheney decided to reschedule a town hall in Warren, Mich., planned for Wednesday. CBS News' Josh Gross, who is on the trail with Cheney, reports that one issue that is a constant focus of Cheney's interactions with Republican audiences:

Trail Byte: The debate over Federal judicial nominations does not garner many headlines compared to issue like terrorism, taxes or health care, but it has been a constant focus of vice president Cheney's campaign speeches for months. Outside the attacks on John Kerry and the trumpeting of the Bush administration's successes in the war on terror, it is one of the few issues that the vice president addresses in nearly every speech.

Cheney preps the topic by ticking off an array of issues that usually draw excited agreement from the friendly Republican audiences – prohibiting partial birth abortion, supporting the Second Amendment and keeping "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Impressing upon the crowd that he and the President will defend their rights and values, he says "There shouldn't be any question about this -- and there wouldn't be if we had more reasonable judges on the federal bench."

He will chastise Democratic senators, including opponents John Kerry and John Edwards, for using the filibuster to block President Bush's nominations, often labeling these potential judges as "sensible" and "mainstream".

He finishes with a rally cry for the party faithful. Last week in Reno, Nevada, he said, "What the Democrats are doing is outrageous, and that's why we need to send more Republicans to the United States Senate."

The set up was no different on Tuesday, when the Cheney spoke in Wauseon, Ohio near Toledo. This time, however, the vice president called out Democrats and said he recognized the game they were playing. "They're hoping to wait the president out. But I've got news for them: that's not going to happen. We're going to win this election!"

If Cheney seems particularly fixated on the subject of judicial nominations it's because the topic has personally affected him. On July 20, 2004 the Senate Democrats used the filibuster to block the vote on Bill Myers, a friend to the Vice President.

"Recently, they used their obstructionist tactics to keep the Senate from voting on Bill Myers, a fine man from my part of the country," he told an audience in Ohio on Monday. "If Bill had made it to an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, he had the votes to be confirmed to the Ninth Circuit, which, by the way, is the circuit that decided we should not say 'under God' when we pledge allegiance to the flag."

The Ninth Circuit decides most of the federal appeals for the West Coast. Not only did it decide the recent Pledge of Allegiance case, but it has handled other high profile issues like assisted suicide, legal marijuana, and California's three strikes sentencing law. The Ninth Circuit also hears many cases concerning the environment, most recently granting an injunction to stop a deal between the government and the timber industry to harvest a forest in Oregon burned in a wildfire.

The debate over Myers' nomination in the Senate was especially bitter. As a lawyer from Idaho, he had frequent contact with mining and ranching groups, which drew particular criticism from environmentalist throughout the West. The nomination needed 60 votes to break the filibuster and Myers lost 53-44. Neither John Kerry nor John Edwards voted.

The vote brought criticism from the White House. President Bush issued a statement saying, "I continue to call on the minority in the Senate to stop playing politics with the American judicial system and give judicial nominees the fair treatment they deserve and the American people expect."

The vice president agrees. He often closes his argument with a punch line that always draws cheers form the crowd: If the Ninth Circuit is going to rule against saying "under God" in the Pledge, then it "sounds to me like they could use some new judges on the Ninth Circuit!"

John Kerry Finally Gets Back to Florida: As the senator treks to the ultimate swing state, CBS News' Steve Chaggaris is with him:

Trail Byte: Kerry on Wednesday spends a second day in Florida, making up for lost time (he had to cancel three trips because of the hurricanes) and taking the opportunity to skewer President Bush on Iraq, health care and Social Security.

On Wednesday, Kerry holds a town hall meeting in West Palm Beach where the focus will be on Social Security before he heads to another battleground state: Ohio. But Tuesday, while he intended to spend most of his time talking about health care at events in Jacksonville and Orlando, Iraq really became the focus as he also held an impromptu press conference – Kerry's first in 6 weeks.

Upon landing in Jacksonville, he spent a half hour talking to the press and all but two questions during the availability were about Iraq. During the event, Kerry repeated what were clearly new talking points about the issue.

Seven times throughout the news conference, Kerry used the word "reality" in reference to Bush's handling of Iraq saying, for instance, "the president needs to live in a world of reality, not in a world of fantasy spin" and that he "didn't talk reality to the United Nations" earlier in the day. In addition, he said Bush has lost "credibility" on the Iraq issue five times.

Later, during a rally at the home arena of the NBA's Orlando Magic, a scratchy-voiced Kerry teamed up with John Edwards for the first time since September 2 and mocked Bush's response to a reporter's question at the U.N. where the president slighted a National Intelligence Estimate on the condition of Iraq.

"The CIA laid out, uh," Kerry quoted Bush as the crowd erupted in cheers at Kerry's rendition of the president's verbal pause. "I just want to let you know I'm quotin'," he continued.

Kerry then read Bush's full quote: "'The CIA laid out uh – several scenarios and said life could be lousy, life could be OK, life could be better, and they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like."

"Does that make you feel safer?" Kerry asked the crowd. "Does that give you confidence that this president knows what he's talking about?"

On another note, during his town hall meeting earlier in Jacksonville, Kerry did make one unexpected scheduling announcement. In response to a question about if he will "fight for every vote in Florida," Kerry said, "We're going to be in Florida, I guarantee you – no if, ands and buts – I'll be here, I'll probably be here – I wouldn't be surprised if I wasn't here on November 2 and we'll be here fighting."

Edwards Back To His Roots: John Edwards heads back to South Carolina for the first time as candidate for vice president. In the state where he was born, the senator will hold a "community gathering" and pull in some more money for the DNC at a fundraiser.

Continuing his high profile week, he will appear on Larry King Live on Wednesday night from Columbia, S.C., and will then head back to Washington, D.C., where he will remain with no public events until the weekend. (Do we hear the sound of debate prep in the air?)

CBS News' Bonney Kapp reports on Edwards' Tuesday in the battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida:

Trail Byte: At his morning economic policy speech in Cleveland, John Edwards used strong language to take a swipe at the Bush administration's economic policy, calling it "the most radical and dangerous economic agenda to hit our shores since socialism a century ago. Just like socialism, it corrupts the very nature of our democracy and our free enterprise system."

The Bush campaign promptly denounced the comment in an email, calling it "wild-eyed rhetoric," and Edwards' accusation didn't generate the kind of buzz that Vice President Cheney receives when he launches an attack.

The attention was instead on Edwards' next stop, a two-hour plane ride away. For the first time since August 2nd, Edwards campaigned in Florida. Regarded as one of the key states for winning the election, the candidate has cancelled two visits because of the hurricanes that struck the state.

"We're very happy to be here with you, happy too, you know to be back in Florida," Edwards began his Tampa town hall meeting. "Unfortunately those of us in North Carolina also know something about hurricanes," he empathized.

Describing the state as "ground zero" in deciding the outcome of the election, Edwards assured town hall goers that his campaign has "teams of people across FL, some of the best legal talent in the world" working to make sure there is not a repeat of the 2000 election in Florida. "We understand exactly what the Republicans understand—when you vote, when more people vote, we win. It's not all that complicated," he said.

Edwards also raked $1 million from Tampa donors at an evening fundraiser, where he spoke for 12 minutes. If there were any complaints on his brevity, Edwards did promise that he and his running mate would be "back and back and back in Florida."

Edwards' campaign plane then headed to Orlando, taxied, and parked a few yards from his running mate John Kerry's jet, where the two reunited for the first time since their midnight rally in Ohio on September 2nd.

In his 10-minute introduction, Edwards referred to Kerry as "a man of strength, courage, and conviction." When John Kerry took the microphone, he asked the supportive crowd, "Did I pick a great vice president of the United States?"

Kerry went on to joke how smart his running mate is because he didn't tell his young children "that he was coming down to be right near Disney World, that's how smart he is." And feeding in to those who think Edwards is too young and inexperienced to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, Kerry joked, "The difference between John Edwards and Dick Cheney – John Edwards is People Magazine's sexiest politician of the year. Dick Cheney is Halliburton's sexiest politician of the year."

Senate Watch: Although Republicans may still have the upper hand in the 2004 Senate race, with five Southern Democrats retiring and the election map tilting in their favor, the Democrats appear to be running surprisingly strong campaigns, especially in the South, reports the Wall Street Journal. Democrats are doing better than expected in North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida. Even states usually considered to be Republican strongholds like Colorado, Alaska and Okalahoma, are not out of bounds for the Democrats who are doing notably well in many polls. The Republicans seem only to have a sure hold on one seat: Georgia, where Democrat Sen. Zell Miller is retiring.

In an attempt to boost morale and soothe anxiety about new developments in the campaign, Sen. John Kerry sent campaign chairwoman Mary Beth Cahill to Capital Hill on Tuesday to meet with Democrats. Although numerous Democratic senators expressed post-convention concern, there seemed to be renewed positive energy, The Hill reports. "I feel they're getting it straight," said retiring Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-SC. "Now they're finally beginning to fight."

In other Senate news, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee acquired new strength in the form of a $1 million donation from Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Schumer's gift came from his $22 million campaign account, which was built over the last six years. Schumer donated $500,000 two week ago to other Democrats' efforts, a large portion of which went to the DSCC with the remainder going to state parties. On Tuesday, Schumer pledged another $500,000 directly to the DSCC, bringing his total to $1 million, Roll Call reports.

Three DeLay Aides Indicted For Illegal Fund-Raising: Three top political aides to Republican House Majority leader Tom DeLay were indicted Tuesday by a Texas grand jury on charges that they raised illegal corporate contributions and used them in the 2002 Texas state elections, reports The New York Times. Eight companies were also indicted for illegal contributions including Sears Roebuck & Company and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. Corporate contributions are illegal in Texas.

The grand jury charged DeLay's political aide Jim Ellis, fundraiser Warren RoBold and John Colyandro, the executive director of Delay's political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), which spent $1.5 million to help Republicans gain control of the Texas House. The Texas legislature later redrew the state's congressional district boundaries in favor of Republicans, which helps them maintain control of Congress.

Rep. DeLay has not been questioned by the grand jury nor has it sought records from him. But the indictments come at a time when the congressman is being investigated by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct over accusations of improper fundraising.

Amid new calls for the Committee to move forward with its inquiry, DeLay released a statement Wednesday saying, "This has been an investigation that has been underway for nearly two years, and 40 days before the election they've suddenly taken action. You do the political math."

He went on to say, "I'll reiterate what I've said before and today's action emphasizes: I have not been subpoenaed, I have not been asked to testify, and I have not been called as a witness. They've made clear this investigation is not about me."

Quote of the Day: "It's not like, 'What do I do now, Dad?'" --former President George H.W. Bush on the advice his son sometimes seeks. (Jackson Sun)