Washington Wrap

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

* Republicans Spin the Debate

* Kerry the Clear Choice Abroad

* Bush Inspects Hurricane Damage on Way to Debate

* Cheney Drinks Coffee in Minnesota

* Kerry Goes South

* Edwards Back in Old Battleground

* Early Voting

Republicans Spin the Debate:In a conference call with CBS News on Wednesday morning, senior Bush officials provided a run down of where they stand one day before the first Presidential debate.

The Republicans have set up a response operation at their headquarters in Arlington, Va. as well as at the debate site. They say they have practiced watching Kerry's recent speeches, noting his different positions on Iraq and they insist that there is no way that Senator Kerry can speak for 90 minutes without changing his position. The response room will be one central location where the Republicans will have all of Senator Kerry's records at their disposal. Bush-Cheney folks warn that they will be listening intently to Kerry's every word during Thursday night's debate and will post, via the Internet, a real-time counter of Kerry's changing position. The response team's findings will be posted immediately on their Web site: www.debatefacts.org.

A Bush strategist says they expect between 50 and 55 million television viewers for Thursday night's debate, a larger audience than the 2000 debates. The Bush-Cheney team is confident entering this first debate saying, "We are up five or six points nationally." They say the pressure is on Senator Kerry to show the American public who he is and express a clear cut plan regarding his positions on foreign policy.

As for the president, senior Bush officials insist that, "the public has a good sense of who he is and where he is stands. He will continue to be clear and concise."

The Kerry camp takes its turn at the spin machine later on Wednesday.

If Foreigners Could Vote, There's No Question Who Would Win: John Kerry may be trailing in the polls at home, but The Washington Post reports that he is widely favored abroad, according to surveys and interviews conducted in 20 countries. The surveys also showed significant hostility towards President Bush.

Kerry supporters around the world like his beliefs about consulting allies and respecting their views. They also say they are drawn to his African-born wife, the fact that he attended school in Geneva and speaks French.

President Bush, on the other hand, is widely disliked for launching the Iraq war. From Canada to Russia, Europe to the Middle East, "Bush-bashing" is rampant. "If foreigners could vote, there's no question what the result would be," Guillaume Parmentier, director of the French Center on the United States, told the Post. "Bush's image, even before the war in Iraq, was not good. The way he comports himself, the vocabulary he uses -- good versus evil, God and all that -- even his body language, most people think is not presidential." He added, "I've never seen such hostility."

But President Bush has support from some parts of the world. Many in Israel like him for his strong stance in that region. A recent opinion poll there showed that 48 percent of Israelis support Bush while only 29 percent prefer Kerry. Bush is also favored in Singapore, where the government largely shares Bush's fears of Islamic extremism. And East Asia and India support Bush for his views on expanding world trade, something they have largely benefited from. They worry about Kerry because of his criticisms during his campaign of exporting American jobs.

Bush Inspects Hurricane Damage on Way to Debate: CBS News' Mark Knoller reports:

Knoller Nugget: It's off to the scene of Thursday's first debate with John Kerry, as President Bush ends a stay at his Texas ranch and heads to Coral Gables, Florida on Wednesday. On his way there, he will inspect damage inflicted by Hurricane Jeanne on orange groves in the central Florida town of Lake Wales.

Bush has gone to great lengths to demonstrate his concern for Florida, a state critical to his re-election bid. Wednesday's trip marks his fifth visit to Florida in the past month and half that was, at least in part, hurricane-related.

He has already delivered $2 billion in additional disaster relief and is asking Congress for quick action on another $10.2 billion in aid for all states hard hit by the hurricanes.

Neither the White House nor the Bush campaign wants the disaster visits to be seen as politically motivated. On Tuesday, Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot sent out an e-mail to Bush supporters asking them to help hurricane victims by contributing to the Red Cross.

"There is a time for politics, and a time to set partisanship aside and come to the aid of others," he wrote. "Now is the time to help our friends, family and neighbors in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania."

The Debate: While top aides low-ball expectations for the president's performance in Thursday's debate, not so the first lady. "Well, of course, I think he's going to do very well," she said Tuesday in a radio interview with CBS News. While senior aides would only say they expect Mr. Bush to "hold his own," Mrs. Bush trumpets her husband's debating skills. "He has great characteristics. He says what he thinks. He's very straightforward. He means what he says. I think people will see that again in this debate," she said.

Asked if the president likes people to underestimate his skills, Mrs. Bush added, "I think people do underestimate him. I think that's just a fact of life. It's been a fact of life, his political life, for sure." She said her husband isn't nervous about the debates, but she is. The president spent a bit of time at his ranch Tuesday fine-tuning his debate strategy. But he also went fishing and riding on his mountain bike.

More From The First Lady: Despite the daily dose of nasty attacks sent her husband's way from the Kerry campaign and other Democrats, Mrs. Bush does not think this is the meanest campaign she's ever seen. "No, I really don't. I think every campaign, each new campaign that we come to we think is the meanest, but every campaign has an aspect of this."

She thinks the 1992 presidential race between her father-in-law and Bill Clinton was worse than the current contest: "I remember in 1992, when I thought somebody we loved a lot, George's dad, was characterized in a way that we knew he wasn't," said the First Lady. "We thought that was a really mean campaign."

As for the venomous attacks hurled at her husband, "Well, I don't like it, of course. You never get used to it. But I also know it's what happens in politics." The harshest verbal criticism often comes from the mothers of American military personnel who blame the President for the deaths of their loved ones. Mrs. Bush says: "I know how deep their grief is and how profound their grief is. I also know that anything we say is trivial in the face of that loss."

She says she hopes people realize "how much the commander-in-chief is aware of the sacrifice of families and the sacrifice of our men and women in the military uniform."

At a recent rally, Mrs. Bush was interrupted by a woman shouting that she held President Bush responsible for the death of her military son. "Yes, I was aware of it," said Mrs. Bush. She said she didn't make an effort to contact the woman, who was hustled out of the event. "(But) I've thought about her a lot," the First Lady said. "And I know how sad she is."

Mrs. Bush said she'd be devastated if her husband lost re-election. But asked if there wouldn't also be a sense of relief, that the burdens of office were at an end, she said "I'm sure there's a slight sense of that, but I hope he wins."

Cheney Drinks Coffee in Minnesota: Vice President Cheney answers questions over coffee in St. Paul and does a town hall in Duluth before returning to D.C. CBS News' Josh Gross reports that it wouldn't be surprising if some of today's questions are about the draft.

Trail Byte: It is an issue that has been tackled on television network news, the Internet and in newspapers, but it still pops up sporadically during Vice President Cheney's town hall meeting: does the Bush administration have plan to reinstate the military draft?

Not surprisingly, the question is usually asked by young men between the ages of 18 and 25 who will preface their question by saying they heard it from someone else. On Tuesday in Dubuque, Iowa, the vice president again tried to clarify his position.

"Senator Kerry has said that you and President Bush have a secret plan to reinstitute the draft. Is that true?" inquired a young man of draft age. Unable to resist a shot at Kerry, Cheney quickly shot back, "As far as I know, he's the only one with secret plans."

"I don't know anybody in a position of responsibility who would advocate going back to the draft," Cheney continued. "We keep it there, it's on the books, the statute is there in the eventuality of some totally unforeseen set of circumstances that nobody can contemplate today."

In part, the vice president has the Internet to thank for the perpetuation of this line of questioning. While it has revolutionized the way campaigns raise money and reach voters, political rumors abound in cyberspace. Recently, emails have been circulating around the country, especially among males on college campuses, concerning the return of conscription.

While the emails are filled with factual errors, like most Internet rumors, these stories are somewhat based in reality. They mention actual bills in the House and Senate (introduced by Democrats) that have wording suggesting mandatory service for both men and women. Neither presidential candidate supports the legislation and it has gone nowhere on the Hill.

But that doesn't stop the topic from being brought up in the vice president's public forums. In fact, earlier this month, one attendee risked disciplinary action over the question. On September 17th, at another town hall meeting in Oregon City, Ore. a student said to the vice president, "Yesterday, a teacher of mine refused to sign an absence slip to come here. And she said, 'Do you realize once, if, Bush gets reelected, that he'll make a draft.'"

As at the event in Iowa, the vice president shot down the rumor. "The all-volunteer force has produced an absolutely remarkable group of men and women in the service," he said. He continued by adding a personal observation. "And I think it works. It works extraordinarily well. And I'm a great believer in it, from having sat there as Secretary of Defense and watched it operate."

Hoping to put an end to the draft talk, on Monday he finished his answer with the most definitive answer possible. "The suggestion that somehow there's a plan out there for a secret draft is, I'd call it, you could call it either an urban legend or a nasty political rumor, but it's not true."

Kerry Goes South: CBS News' Steve Chaggaris reports:

Trail Byte: Wrapping up his four-day stay in southwest Wisconsin, Senator Kerry travels to south Florida on Wednesday afternoon where he'll make his final preparations for Thursday's first presidential debate.

He's expected to be greeted by hundreds of supporters upon departing the Madison airport in the afternoon and again later when he lands in Miami. The Kerry campaign has not planned any other public events before the debate, though that is definitely subject to change.

Meantime, Kerry spent Tuesday out of sight, taking a good chunk of the day to prep for his first showdown with President Bush. Aides described the prep sessions as "relaxed" as his national security team - Rand Beers, Susan Rice and Jonathan Winer - went over potential questions and answers with Kerry, Bush stand-in Greg Craig and Bob Shrum, as the stand-in for debate moderator Jim Lehrer.

Kerry "has to keep track of George Bush's 23 shifting rationales for the war in Iraq," spokesman David Wade said sarcastically, as he tried to turn the flip-flop label back onto the President.

The campaign was quick to lower expectations about Kerry's debate performance, as is the Bush-Cheney team regarding the President's, repeating the mantra that Bush "has never lost a debate" in his political career.

When asked how Kerry, who's usually perceived as stuffy and overly-wordy, is preparing to counter Bush's appealing image as a man of the people who speaks succinctly, Wade added that Kerry had the same challenge against Bill Weld in their 1996 Senate race and Kerry did "pretty well."

Following the debate, Kerry will stay in the Sunshine State, continuing to make up time lost due to the hurricanes. Wednesday marks Kerry's fifth day in Florida in the last two months and, in addition to the debate, he's planning on campaign events in Tampa and Orlando on Friday and Saturday.

Edwards Back in the Old Battleground: It is back to Pittsburgh's airport for the Edwards campaign on Wednesday. The candidate will drive to Weirton, W.Va. for a town hall focusing on "the President's wrong choices in Iraq" and the war on terror, this time without the aid of 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser, who was with Edwards for two days of campaigning. Edwards then heads back to Washington, DC before going to Columbus, Ohio, to watch the debate on Thursday and hold a midnight rally. CBS News' Bonney Kapp reports:

Trail Byte: When the pilot of the Edwards campaign jet announced we were number 15 for takeoff from New York's La Guardia Airport Tuesday morning due to weather conditions, groans could be heard throughout the cabin. It was an hour delay that the campaign never recovered from Tuesday, with each of Edwards' three events at least one hour behind schedule.

While attendees of Edwards' town hall meeting in Pittsburgh patiently anticipated the candidate's return to the city where it was first announced he would join John Kerry on the ticket, they were not so tolerant of one participant's long-winded rant that Saddam Hussein should return to power and U.S. troops should leave. As the man rambled on for several minutes, the audience became restless and Edwards finally interrupted him.

"Let me say first of all, I appreciate your expressing the way you feel. I don't agree with what you just said," Edwards said to applause. "George Bush created the mess that we now have in Iraq, but both John Kerry and I are committed to us being successful and I think it is not a responsible thing to do to just tomorrow withdraw all the troops," he continued.

Edwards also drew loud applause when he addressed an 18-year-old woman's concern about women's issues (after she noted the senator's "great hair"). "George Bush keeps having these, these little fluffy events where he has women come and say that they're for George Bush. Why in the world a woman would vote for GB is completely beyond me," he said as the crowd roared in concurrence.

Following the hour-long event, the campaign headed to New Jersey, a state considered a Democratic stronghold until recently. That's a notion the candidate shrugged off in his first ever Garden State rally. "One thing we know for sure is on Nov 2nd, New Jersey's going to help send John Kerry to the White House," he said confidently as he took the stage.

Senator Edwards stuck to his own stump speech script at the rally, but paused when he noticed 9/11 widow and recent campaign guest Kristen Breitweiser was on stage with him. "I didn't know you were here!" he exclaimed. "Come here, come here, come here," he said before asking her to take the microphone, not realizing she was among those who spoke while the crowd waited more than an hour for the senator to arrive.

"Usually I'm the last one to know what's going on at these events," Edwards laughed when he was advised she had already spoken. Breitweiser traveled from Pittsburgh with the campaign and was also late to the event, but arrived before the senator.

The only other time Edwards strayed from his stump, however briefly, was when he noticed a woman in the crowd who clearly needed assistance. "There's a lady here who needs some help. They'll get someone down there," he said before delivering one of his applause lines. "But let me tell you what would be good for the American economy, what would be good for the American economy would be to outsource George Bush," he said to polite applause from a crowd distracted by the ill woman.

"This happens a lot at our events when people have to stand for so long, I'm sure she'll be fine and we're getting her some help right now," Edwards assured the crowd before once again resuming his speech. The woman was fine, and her husband later explained that she passed out because she thought Edwards was so handsome in person. "I'm jealous," he said. "She didn't pass out when she first met me!"

Edwards later delivered a 12-minute speech in exchange for $1 million at a fundraiser in East Brunswick.

Early Voting: Although Election Day is technically on November 2, many voters will have the opportunity to cast ballots long before that. In a trend that is ramping up, more and more states are allowing voters to register their opinions weeks before Election Day. The methods for doing this include no-excuse absentee ballots sent in via mail and "early in person" voting, where voters can vote in person at post offices, court houses, etc. weeks before the election occurs.

As USA Today reports, "This year, 31 states with 54% of the total U.S. population offer voters a chance to cast ballots before Election Day." And that trend is particularly pronounced in some battleground states: Michigan voters have 43 days, Iowa voters have 40, Ohioans can cast a ballot up to 35 days and Pennsylvania goes to the polls up to 30 days prior. And how important is it? "In 2000, George Bush led the Election Day balloting in Iowa by better than 7,200 votes. But Al Gore won the state and its 7 electoral votes, thanks to the 11,000-vote lead he built up in absentee ballots," reports USA Today.

Below is a handy guide to early voting in swing states from the Washington Post.
State Days
Michigan 43
Missouri 42
Iowa 40
Ohio 35
New Hampshire 31
Maine 30
Pennsylvania 30
Arizona 30
Minnesota 29
Wisconsin 29
Washington 20
Oregon 18
West Virginia 18
New Mexico 15
Florida 14
Nevada 14
Colorado 12

Quote of the Day: "He's accusing me of screwing a goat. How do I prove to you I didn't? Do I bring you every goat in Montana?" --Montana Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Schweitzer, on allegations against him in a push poll. (Great Falls Tribune)