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Washington Wrap

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AP
Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, Beth Lester, Clothilde Ewing and Jessica Shyu of the CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.

Monday's Headlines

* Bush Hits the Airwaves to Pitch Iraq Plan

* Kerry Convention Questions

* Kerry's Week Ahead

* Veep Watch: Looks Like July Until a Pick

* Debate about Debates

* Tables Turned in Colorado Democratic Race

Bush Hits Airwaves: As President Bush prepares to speak on Monday night at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., to outline his agenda for rebuilding Iraq, the latest CBS News poll finds that Bush's job approval rating continues to sink toward the cellar -- it's now down to 41 percent. And 61 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Bush is handling the Iraq situation.

In his speech Monday night – the first in a series of at least six presentations between now and June 30 intended to bolster support for his Iraq policies – the president will push for a "partnership" with the Iraqi people to determine the nation's future. The White House says Bush will present five "concrete" steps that can be taken to ensure Iraqi sovereignty, the AP reports.

A similar CBS News survey two weeks ago found Bush's approval rating at 44 percent. A year ago, it was an intimidating 63 percent.

Perhaps most troubling for the White House and Bush campaign: 65 percent of Americans now say the country is on the wrong track, matching the highest number ever recorded in CBS News polls since the question was first asked in the 1980s. (The previous record-holder in the wrong direction category was in November 1994, in the wake of the GOP takeover of the House and Senate.) Only 30 percent of Americans believe the nation is heading in the right direction – a drop of 26 percent from a year ago.

The poll found that majorities disapprove of the way Bush is handling both the economy (36 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove), foreign policy (37 percent approve, 56 percent disapprove). On his handling of terrorism, Bush has the slimmest positive rating: 51 percent.

On the state of the economy, Americans remain split, with 52 percent saying it's good and 47 percent saying it's in bad shape. A month ago the split was 55 percent good, 45 percent bad.

The full results of the latest CBS News Poll will be released at 6:30 p.m. on Monday.

Kerry and the Home Town Convention Blues: As John Kerry ponders whether or not to accept his party's nomination at the Democratic National Convention in July, the question "has provided the clearest evidence yet of a growing divide between city officials and party officials planning the event," the Boston Globe reports. Kerry is considering delaying accepting the nomination so that he can continue to raise and spend unlimited amounts of campaign cash until September, when President Bush is expected to accept his party's nomination. By doing so, both candidates would become eligible for federal matching funds ($75 million) at the same time.

Although the delaying tactic is under consideration, on Sunday, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino expressed his opposition, telling the Globe, "What should happen is somebody should file legislation to correct the flaw in the law, and close this five-week gap … There should be a way of correcting this. You don't have to change the convention at all."

Kerry's potential change was a surprise to convention planners. On Friday an aide to Menino sighed and told CBS News that they were more focused on Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon's haircut than on John Kerry's campaign.

On Monday, Kerry told reporters aboard his campaign plane that talks of a rift or a downgraded convention were premature. He said, "We're going to have a great convention, and Boston is going to make - business will be open, people will do well, all this talk about reduced this, that, is silly, we're going to have a great convention. No decision has been made, but it will be a full-fledged convention…People are sitting down, we're working through these issues... that's all I'm going to say."

CBS News has learned that this is the plan the Kerry campaign is considering:

  • The DNC would change the party rules to provide that the nomination
    will take place on September 1, 2004.
  • The convention would begin as currently planned in Boston. Kerry
    would give a speech to the delegates, but not an acceptance speech (since the delegates will not have voted).
  • Rather than adjourn, it would recess at the end of that week, with a motion to reconvene for purposes of choosing a nominee on September 1. The motion could provide for Internet voting or proxy voting on September 1 (so people would not have to all reconvene in person).
  • On September 1, the actual delegate vote would take place and the nomination would be formalized, accepted, and documented.

    Kerry's Week Ahead: With President Bush set to make a series of speeches on Iraq, the Kerry campaign is launching its own foreign policy-focused series of events.

    According to planning information received by CBS News, the Kerry campaign will begin the week with a series on "energy independence," highlighting plans to move the U.S. away from reliance on foreign oil. He begins the week with regional press interviews on the subject and then travels to Portland, Ore., on Tuesday to visit "a school bus depot to highlight how high gas prices are affecting taxpayers and local communities."

    On Wednesday, Kerry will be in Seattle, Wash., (not coincidentally another battleground state) to talk about "about how our dependence on Middle East oil is putting our national security at risk."

    On Thursday, Kerry will kick-off an 11-day focus on national security. Kerry will make a major policy speech, with subjects including "terrorism, keeping the most deadly weapons out of terrorists' hands, strengthening our military, and Iraq." Undoubtedly, this is meant to contrast with President Bush's major speech on Monday night. The Kerry camp will also begin highlighting its state Veterans for Kerry organizations and try to highlight veterans' support on "the campaign website and booked on radio and regional press interviews."

    Veep Watch: Even as convention questions swirl, the never-ending vice presidential parlor game continues. In timing news, new reports suggest that Kerry wont make a VP pick until early July. A July decision is "more likely" than one in June, a Kerry adviser told CBS News. This would put the decision after former President Clinton's memoirs are scheduled to be published and President Bush returns from Europe.

    And in case John Kerry needs more advice on who he should pick, Ralph Nader got into the act on Sunday. He told the ABC's "This Week" that Kerry should pick either Sen. John Edwards or Rep. Dick Gephardt. He said, "They're not going to cause him any embarrassment. And they do bring an additional voter support for him." Nader also dismissed the idea of a Kerry-McCain ticket, saying: "McCain really should be taken at his word. ... He's not going to do it." Back in the Democratic Party, Nader voiced displeasure at Sen. Evan Bayh joining the ticket, calling Bayh a "very soft Democrat." Later on in the program, Bayh responded, "I'm happy he's not registered to vote in Indiana."

    Meanwhile, Sen. Chuch Hagel, R-Neb., said four Democrats, not affiliated with the Kerry campaign, have asked whether he has any interest in joining Kerry's ticket, the Washington Post reports. Hagel declined, but applauded Kerry's interest in creating a bipartisan government. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has also ruled out becoming Kerry's running mate.

    The Post reports: "Kerry will name his choice for vice president in July, according to a Democrat familiar with the selection process."

    Debate Challenge: The nonpartisan Citizens' Debate Commission, www.OpenDebates.org, announced sites and dates for a series of proposed 2004 general election debates on Monday. In theory these debates will be more inclusive and will allow a platform where third party and independent candidates can participate.

    George Farah, the Executive Director of Open Debates, tells CBS News the debates are an effort to "let the American people see who they want to see without drowning out the voices of the leading contenders of the presidency."

    Pat Buchanan and John Anderson, two men who have felt excluded from big debates over the years, were also on hand to unveil the six colleges selected for the five presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate:

  • Capital University, in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday, September 22.
  • Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore, Penn., on Tuesday, September 28.
  • Canisius College in Buffalo, on Sunday, October 3.
  • Willamette University in Salem, Ore., on Thursday, October 7 (Vice-Presidential Debate)
  • Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., on Monday, October 11.
  • Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Friday, October 15.

    The commission has already called on George W. Bush and John Kerry to participate, but the door is still open for others. In order to qualify, the candidate needs to be on enough state ballots to win the electoral college or needs to be polling at or better than five percent nationally.

    "It's about time somebody challenged the Commission on Presidential Debates and the rigid rules and formats they follow at the behest of the Democratic and Republican parties. One can only hope that Open Debates and the Citizens' Debate Commission will be successful in luring potential candidates to take part in unencumbered and free flowing debate," concluded Robert Asman, television special events producer and executive producer of the Commission on Presidential Debates' 1996 presidential debates.

    So far no answer from the Bush or Kerry camps. Nader pushed these debates in his meeting with Kerry last week.

    Colorado Democrats' Dream Candidate Salazar Upset at State Convention: School administrator Mike Miles raised a ruckus Saturday when he narrowly beat favored state attorney general Ken Salazar for the top spot on the ballot for the Democratic Party's U.S. Senate primary in August, the Rocky Mountain News reported. While Miles, a first-time candidate running on a liberal platform, lags behind his opponent in cash and in the polls against Republican candidates, he also finally won the opportunity to debate Salazar.

    Although Salazar, whose centrist views made him a Democratic Party favorite, rejected Miles' invitations repeatedly in the past two months to debate, he proposed a series of debates Sunday after the upset. Major candidates often avoid debating lesser-known ones to keep their opponents from stealing media spotlight.

    "He's realizing that not to debate me is going to continue to hurt him," Miles said, reported Rocky Mountain News. "They now think I'm a real threat."

    Salazar's campaign manager Jim Carpenter said to the Rocky Mountain News that the debates represent "a new phase of the campaign."

    But it is certainly not the end. Despite having lost by only 100 votes, Salazar still has a strong shot at winning the August election, say supporters, who consider him the best chance the Democratic Party has to win the Senate seat in a decade.

    Analysts attributed Miles' success to his strong, emotional anti-war speech, which tipped several delegates' votes, Rocky Mountain News reported. About 400 delegates who pledged to vote for Salazar did not make it to the convention in Pueblo, Colo.

    Quote of the Day: "It's like if you don't have a size 48 bust you're not sexy; if you're not 24 you're not attractive. It's so limiting and uninteresting" -- Teresa Heinz Kerry, on Americans and their preoccupation with numbers. (USA Today)