* Bush on the Bus
* Cheney vs. Kerry
* Kerry Prepares Himself
* Edwards Finally Gets a Day Off
* Pulpit Politics
* Electronic Voting, A Savior or Menace?
* Dean Still in the Game
Bush on the Bus, Then to Crawford: In the wake of some new national polls showing his lead anywhere from 8 points (CBS News) to 6 points (CNN/Gallup and Marist)to 2 points (Fox/Opinion Dynamics) among likely voters, President Bush is in the Midwest again Friday before going to his ranch in Crawford, Texas for six days of intensive debate prep. CBS News' Mark Knoller reports:
Knoller Nuggett: It's another re-election drive on the Bush campaign bus Friday as the President attends two rallies in Wisconsin. It is a state he lost in 2000 by the third narrowest margin of any state and he has been aggressively targeting Wisconsin this year. This visit is his 15th visit to the state as President and his seventh this year. It is also his 15th campaign bus trip of the year.
Before leaving the White House, the president attends the swearing-in ceremony of his new CIA Director Porter Goss, who won Senate confirmation Tuesday.
On Thursday, a planeload of National Guard and Army Reserve personnel on their way to duty in Iraq got a personal send-off from President Bush. After a campaign rally in Bangor, Maine Thursday afternoon, Mr. Bush delayed his departure to await the arrival of a chartered MD-11 aircraft carrying nearly 300 servicemen and women. They were en route to the Persian Gulf from Fort Bragg via Germany and Kuwait for deployment in Iraq for 18 to 24 months.
The president boarded the aircraft to shake hands and exchange greetings with the men and women all dressed in desert fatigues. He walked up and down the aisles of the aircraft, and could be heard offering his thanks for their service and saying, "I'm proud of you." At one point, he got on the public address system of the plane to again say thanks: "I appreciate your service to the country. I appreciate being in the presence of such fine men and women. May God bless you all. May God keep you safe. May God bless America, as well. Thank you all."
Reporters were told that all the soldiers aboard the plane had been given absentee election ballots in the day or two before their departure. Many still had the ballots with them.
Speaking of Iraq, the issue comprises a significant portion of nearly every campaign speech Mr. Bush gives, including the one Thursday in Bangor. He spoke of his meeting earlier in the day at the White House with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. "We're going to help this government in Iraq," said Mr. Bush. "We'll help them ... build their troops. We'll help them build their infrastructure." And he again blasted rival John Kerry's position on Iraq, saying "Incredibly, this week, my opponent said he would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today."
But that is a misrepresentation of what Kerry really said. In his speech at New York University on Monday, what he said was this: "Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, that was not in and of itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction that we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: we have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."
Luckily, Mr. Bush also had praise on Thursday for another John Kerry: not his democratic rival, but a man by the same name who runs Catholic Charities in Falmouth, Maine. That John Kerry shares the president's view that the federal government should provide funding for social service programs run by churches and other religious groups. "That's one John Kerry I agree with," said Mr. Bush to applause at his rally.
Cheney v Kerry: On Friday, Vice President Cheney speaks at a breakfast for congressional candidate Charles Boustany in Lafayette, La., attends a rally in Warrenton, Mo., and makes remarks at a dinner for senatorial candidate Tom Coburn in Tulsa, Okla.. But even from remote outposts, the GOP's second banana has emerged as the man who volleys with the Democrats top dog. CBS News' Josh Gross reports:
Trail Byte: As the November 2 election draws nearer, it is becoming obvious to anyone who listens to Vice President Cheney that he's developed a remarkably direct strategy in his attacks on Senator Kerry.
The Republicans have come to realize that one of the most effective weapons against the Democratic candidate is the candidate himself. Accordingly, the core of the vice president's argument against the election of John Kerry is redirecting the Senator's own words back at him. Cheney's speech to a crowd in St. Joseph, Mo., on Thursday was a perfect example of this tactic.
Cheney either quoted or referenced earlier speeches by Kerry seven times. Six of these examples he has used in previous stump speeches but new to the speech was a reaction to the comments Kerry made earlier in the day.
Concerning the visit by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi to the United States and his assessment on the war, Kerry said, "The prime minister and the president are here, obviously, to put their best face on the policy."
Cheney was again quick to react. "I must say I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Sen. Kerry showed for this man of courage when he rushed to hold a press conference and attack the prime minister, a man America must stand beside to defeat the terrorists," he told the crowd. "John Kerry is trying to tear down all the good that has been accomplished, and his words are destructive to our effort in Iraq and in the global war on terror."
These rapid responses are now standard operating procedure. These similar rejoinders are now central to Cheney's stump speech:
Kerry's speech in New York on his Iraq policy earlier in the week. Cheney's response: "Yet despite all the harsh rhetoric, Senator Kerry endorsed many of the same goals President Bush has been pursuing in Iraq for months."
In the same speech, Kerry's claim that if he were president, the countries allies would speak with a single voice. Cheney's response: "That seems a little odd coming from a guy who doesn't speak with one voice himself."
Kerry voting against the $87 billion bill to further fund expenses in Iraq. Cheney's response: "At first Sen. Kerry said he didn't really oppose the funding. He both supported and opposed it. He said, and I quote, 'I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.' That certainly clears things up."
Kerry's assertion that his views on the bill were complex. Cheney's response: "Lately he's been saying he's proud that he and John Edwards voted no, and explains his decision was 'complicated.' But funding American troops in combat should never be a complicated question."
Kerry's recent speech to members of the National Guard saying the mark of a good leader is being truthful. Cheney's response: "True leadership is standing for your principles regardless of your audience, or who you've just hired as a political advisor."
In the same speech, Kerry's promise to always be straight with the American people. Cheney's response: "That means when the headlines are good he's for the war, and when his poll numbers are bad, he's against it. These are not times for leaders who shift with the political winds, saying one thing one day and another the next."
Most candidates would love an eager audience that listens with rapt attention. Too bad John Kerry's includes Republicans looking for more ammunition.
Kerry Prepares For Foreign Policy Debate: With the first debate, about foreign policy, only six days away, on Friday morning John Kerry spoke about, of all things, foreign policy. This weekend he will rest his body and vocal chords in Boston and then go to Wisconsin for four days of intense debate preparation. CBS News' Steve Chaggaris reports:
Trail Byte: John Kerry is in Philadelphia on Friday for his final full day of campaigning before beginning several days of debate preparations. And he took the opportunity again to criticize President Bush on Iraq. At a Temple University speech, Kerry laid out the argument that the war on terror is separate from the war in Iraq, contrary to what the President has been saying all along.
"Instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan the President rushed into a new war in Iraq. That was the wrong choice," said Kerry. "Iraq is now what it was not before the war - a haven for terrorists. George Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority. I would have made Osama bin Laden the priority."
During his speech, he unveiled a seven-part strategy for the war on terror, basically cobbling together proposals and arguments he's been making for months: "build a stronger military and intelligence capability", move to "deny terrorists the deadly weapons they seek", "stop terrorist financing", "make homeland security a priority", "deny sanctuary and recruitment for terrorists", "promote freedom and democracy in the Muslim world", and "rebuild and lead strong alliances."
Later Friday, Kerry flies to Boston where he will spend a couple of days before jetting to Iowa County, Wisconsin for four days of debate preps. He and his advisers will isolate themselves at a resort about 40 miles from Madison, but the campaign is keeping the details of how he'll prepare under wraps.
"We decided on this that the main event is center stage and behind the curtain is less entertaining," Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters on the campaign plane Thursday.
He did add, however, that Kerry's focus over the last couple of weeks on Iraq is setting up the arguments he's going to make during the Sept. 30 debate.
"You're witnessing it. We're defining what the parameters of this debate are as we go into it by how we shape the debate on an issue like Iraq or like we shape the debate on the war on terror," said McCurry.
"These are fundamentally important questions that certainly are going to be at the heart of the debate next week. This is debate prep. We're doing it."
Edwards Finally Gets a Day Off: John Edwards has a down day in Washington, D.C., on Friday after subbing for the ailing John Kerry on Thursday. CBS News' Bonney Kapp reports:
Trail Byte: Add 'Kerry stand-in' to John Edwards' resume. The Democratic candidate for president was supposed to have been the headliner at a Davenport, Iowa, town hall-style meeting on Thursday, but Edwards went to bat for his ill running mate instead.
"Let me say first of all, John was going to be here today," Edwards began, referencing his running mate's strained voice. "It's actually started to get a little better as of this morning, but we wanted to make sure he had a good, strong voice for that debate next week, didn't we?"
Often criticized for having little foreign policy experience, Edwards began the terrorism-focused event by airing a list of perceived failures in Iraq. "They told us they had a plan. Not true. They told us that there were enough troops to secure the country and security it quickly. Not True. They told us this war was going to pay for itself. Not True," he said with the receptive crowd joining in on the "not trues."
"Let me say this in language I know people here in Iowa will understand, because I've spent enough time here to know you'll understand it: George Bush made this mess and he can't fix it," Edwards continued to enthusiastic applause.
Unfazed that the top of the Democratic ticket was a no-show, the audience punctuated every one of Edwards' points with applause and cheers. At least one in the audience seemed pleased by the last minute switch. "We are so blessed to have you here," began one man during the event's question and answer period. Remembering his support of Edwards during caucus time, the Iowan said "I said you know what? That guy can do it. And then Kerry got in and I'm very pleased that he picked a good man like yourself."
After the town hall, Edwards subbed for Kerry at a Cedar Rapids rally, where about 2,000 showed up for the running mate. The arena may have looked packed on television, but sections not in line with cameras were completely barren. "Of course" the turn out was expected to be higher for a Kerry rally said one Iowa staffer, who quickly qualified his statement by adding that the Vice President's Iowa rallies only draw crowds of 1,000.
Edwards spoke to the crowd for a Kerry-esque half an hour longer than his usual 20-25 minute standard stump and finished to a shower of confetti that dropped from the ceiling for a good photo-op. "That's what happens when you spend money on an event," one staffer joked.
Although the turnout may have been smaller than expected, those who showed up were satisfied. Lisa Kuzela, a Cedar Rapids resident donning Kerry buttons, said having Edwards substitute was a pleasant surprise. "I love Kerry so much, but I was really excited when I heard Edwards was coming because I've never heard him speak in person," she said. Kuzela has attended two Kerry events and concluded that Edwards is "just so inspirational."
Pulpit Politics: Religion is making a controversial cameo in this Iraq-dominated election season. On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would "prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on whether the words 'under God' should be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance," the Associated Press reports. "The bill, which was passed 247-173, would prohibit federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from hearing cases involving the pledge and its recitation and would prevent federal courts from striking the words 'under God' from the pledge."
In other religion-meets-politics news, a mailing sent to homes in Arkansas, and a similar one sent to West Virginia, seeks to motivate Christian Conservatives. The copy of the mailing obtained by CBS News features a picture of the Bible with the word "BANNED" and a picture of one man proposing to another with the word "APRROVED". The mailer reads, "Our traditional values are under assault by Liberal politicians and their hand-picked activist judges. They are using the courts to get around the Constitution to impose their radical agenda." The mailing's return address is the Republican National Committee's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The mailer has sparked ire among many different groups. Sarah Leonard, a spokeswoman for America Coming Together, the Democratic-leaning 527, told CBS News, "George Bush's Republican Party is trying to divide Americans by shamefully appealing to bigotry and fear. This is ugly, gutter politics at its worst." But the RNC is defending the mailers, reports the New York Times. In an email to the Times, RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson wrote, "When the Massachusetts Supreme Court sanctioned same-sex marriage and people in other states realized they could be compelled to recognize those laws, same-sex marriage became an issue...These same activist judges also want to remove the words 'under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance."
Mixed Reviews for Electronic Voting: This November, a record 29 percent of registered voters will use electronic touch-screen machines to cast their vote, up dramatically from 12 percent in 2000. That's more than 45 million people in 29 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Los Angles Times. But officials fear that the machines, which were created to eliminate headaches, might lead to even more problems come Election Day.
The concern is that most electronic voting machines do not produce paper receipts that could be tallied in the event of a recount. So this year, instead of analyzing hanging, pregnant, or dimpled chads, officials may be looking at nothing at all.
It may sound far fetched, but this scenario already played out in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida last fall when political strategist Ellyn Bogdanoff won a state senate seat by only 10 votes, explains the Times. In such a close election, state law requires a recount. But that was impossible because the votes were all stored on the voting machines' hard drive: so election officials just certified the results.
"The potential for problems this year dwarfs what happened in 2000, because there's nothing to check," said U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Delray Beach Democrat who has lobbied for mandatory paper trails since Florida started considering touch-screen machines.
There are, however, several advantages to the electronic touch screens. The machines work like an ATM. They are programmed to display information in several languages just by pressing a button. They also ask a voter to confirm their selection before their vote is stored on the internal hard drive eliminating voter disqualification for accidentally casting a vote for more than one candidate. The machines also accommodate disabled voters with features like large type and audio prompts for the blind.
Florida officials in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade, the epicenter of the voting controversy four years ago, are lobbying to have printers attached to voting machines so that votes could be tallied in the event of a suspected malfunction or recount.
But many, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, say the machines are safe and easy to use and also argue that printers for the machines would be expensive and difficult to maintain for poll workers. They also note that a stored digital image of each vote can be printed for a manual recount. "Creating a paper trail for each voter is unnecessary except to eliminate the paranoia of the critics," officials with the Florida Department of State and the Florida State Assn. of Supervisors of Elections wrote in a policy paper this summer.
Some believe that voting machines are a good idea but think the technology is not quite ready yet. "There are some advantages" to touch-screen voting machines, said California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. "But they were brought into play before their time." Plans for electronic voting this year are going full steam ahead. This November, election officials and computer engineers will have their fingers crossed.
Howard Dean is Still Playing: Former Vermont Governor and Presidential candidate Howard Dean is holding a different type of election: before 1:00 pm on Monday, Democratic supporters can visit Democracy for America's website and vote for two Senatorial candidates. One incumbent and one challenger will win the financial rewards of a Howard Dean email appealing for political contributions.
Earlier in September, Dean's group, called Democracy for America, sent an email on behalf of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who is in a tough re-election bid against former South Dakota Congressman, John Thune. That one email alone raised $220,000 for Daschle in three days.
During Howard Dean's unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination earlier this year, he raised more than $50 million, largely through the Internet. Post-nomination battle, Dean's grassroots success with political fundraising led Dean to form Democracy for America, which has raised $1.3 million as of June 30th of this year. DFA has also raised an additional $500,000 through the soft-money, 527 arm of DFA.
In the current contest, after the two winners are decided, a formal email will go out to approximately 660,000 Democracy for America supporters. The email will include a link to a donation website.
Democrats such as Betty Castor of Florida have been pleading with supporters to go online at DFA and vote. Castor is vying for Florida's open Senate seat, vacated by retiring Senator Bob Graham. A recent email from Castor's campaign shows how close the DFA race is getting. "Betty is only 8 points away from first place - your vote could be the deciding vote," says the email.
The DFA site says, "This is an easy way for your favorite candidate to gain widespread exposure, recruit a national base of support and raise much-needed resources for the final weeks of the campaign." This is also an easy way for Howard Dean to get more names for his database while winning new friends in Democratic campaigns..
Quote of the Day: "Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country. But in some places you couldn't because the violence was too great. Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet." --Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the upcoming Iraqi elections (Reuters)