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34 days until Election Day the first presidential debate is tomorrow! 6 days until the vice presidential debate 9 days until the second presidential debate 14 days until the third presidential debate


For all the all-over-the-top punditry that makes our collective skin crawl, there is one bit of received CW that is oh-so true — John Forbes Kerry needs a boffo debate perf to make winning the White House feasible.

And "boffo" starts with a version of Kerry who organically projects intensity and pacific calm at the same time — and means them both.

None of that "if you can fake sincerity, you got it made" stuff will do.

If recent past is prologue, then Diane Sawyer's exclusive pre-debate interview with Kerry is more like a giant tea bag than simply some leaves — the man is clearly on a path to his big game face.

Is it all the way where it needs to be to win?

Did the president's campaign advisers watch "Good Morning America" this morning and say, "Crawford, we have a problem"?

Will there come a moment tomorrow night in which the president seems personally intimidated by John Kerry?

Does the New York Times ' in-house political historian/poet/sage Todd Purdum capture the legend of "Kerry the strong closer" perfectly this morning? LINK

The answers are "yes," "maybe," "too soon to say," and "not on your life," but not necessarily in that order.

In the first part of the interview (the second half airs on tomorrow's Clash in Coral Gables edition of GMA), here's something key:

DIANE SAWYER: The polls show 53 percent of the voters in the recent poll think that you change your mind too often. George Bush has 59 percent of a clear stand on the issues — you have 28 percent. Is there any way in which you're responsible for that?

JOHN KERRY: I think their advertising and their — their effort over these last months to use that word have been particularly successful. I give them credit for it. But it doesn't reflect the truth. See what the Republicans do — and they love to do — and they're very good at it — and they've spent millions of dollars doing it — is just find a little sentence here and find a little sentence there — and take it out of context. That's why I look forward to this debate, because it's an opportunity to be able to really let the American people know the truth and know where you stand.

As we said, Part 2 airs tomorrow morning on Good Morning America. See below for more great excerpts.

President Bush participates in a walking tour of Orange Groves in Lake Wales, FL (3:15 pm ET). He overnights in Florida.

Sen. Kerry spends the day in Spring Green, WI for debate prep, departing for Ft. Lauderdale, FL at 6:00 pm ET in anticipation of Thursday's debate.

First Lady Laura Bush speaks at a "Victory 2004" rally at Curry County Fairgrounds in Clovis, NM (3:30 pm ET), delivers remarks on the economy at D.R.B. Electric in Albuquerque (6:05 pm ET), and speaks at a "Heather Wilson for Congress" dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Albuquerque (7:30 pm ET).

Vice President Cheney participates in a BC04 roundtable at the Machine Shed in Lake Elmo, MN (8:00 am ET) and attends a town hall meeting at the Cirrus Design Corporation in Duluth, MN (10:40 am ET).

Sen. Edwards spoke on MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning" already and said of Dick Cheney: "He was against being bogged down in Iraq before he was for it."

Later today, Edwards hosts a town hall meeting at the Weirton Conference Center in Weirton, WV (11:55 am ET).

Jenna and Barbara Bush speak at a "Students for Bush" rally at the University of Maine in Orono, ME (11:30 am ET) and appear at "Students for Bush" rally at Bates College in Lewiston, ME (2:30 pm ET).

Presidential candidate Ralph Nader holds press conferences in Ft. Myers (12:00 pm ET), Sarasota (3:00 pm ET), and Tampa (5:00 pm ET) before delivering a campaign speech at Centro Asturiano de Tampa Theatre in Tampa, FL (8:00 pm ET).

The Senate meets at 9:30 am ET to resume consideration of S.2845, the Intelligence Reform Bill.

Tonight, ABC News' own Jake Tapper will host WWE Smackdown Your Vote's first ever presidential "debate" at the University of Miami. Tune in at 10:00pm ET on ABC News Now for full coverage. Wrestling stars participating including John "Bradshaw" Layfield and Mick Foley.

The Clash in Coral Gables: previews:

Bienvenido a Miami!

In a sneaky debate story that doesn't start like a debate story, the Washington Post 's Mike Allen reports "President Bush's campaign called on 6 million supporters nationwide Tuesday to 'set partisanship aside' and contribute to hurricane relief in Florida." LINK

We urge you not to miss these two grafs:

"At the debate site at the University of Miami, in Coral Gables, workers assembled six tractor-trailers of production equipment as officials from the Commission on Presidential Debates continued to chafe at demands from the Bush-Cheney campaign for rigorous enforcement of unprecedented debate restrictions designed to limit chances for the candidates to interact directly. One debate official said jokingly that the Bush campaign was so insistent about keeping the candidates in their designated spaces that organizers were 'thinking of using flares or building a campfire' to satisfy the GOP handlers. Instead, the organizers will settle for strips of tape that are likely to be visible to television viewers, officials said."

"Kerry campaign officials said they were happy Bush had agreed to all three debates and cared little about the rules, some of which the commission said are unenforceable because camera angles are controlled by the television networks. Bush confidant Karen Hughes said the aim of the rules was 'no gimmicks, no tricks, no sudden surprises.'"

The Washington Post 's Howard Kurtz ponders the importance of the debate — or the manipulation of it by spin — following the debate. It's not just what the candidates say and do; it's what the commentators from both sides and news analysts say is important about what they do. And good to see a quote from Will Saletan! Hey, is anybody truth-squadding the spin room? LINK

Shailagh Murphy of the Wall Street Journal has a great debate preview on page A4, concluding that "At key moments in their political careers, the president and his Democratic challenger exceeded low expectations in pivotal debates."

Walter Shapiro Notes, "In a more leisurely debate setting, it might be possible for the two presidential candidates to discuss the history and background of their sharply conflicting versions of the truth in Iraq. But the memorandum of agreement between the two campaigns governing the conduct of the debate places a premium on fast-moving changes of topic." LINK

"Iraq, the issue most likely to ignite fire in tomorrow's debate, has become the chief symbol of differences between presidential candidates George W. Bush and John F. Kerry," writes the Washington Post 's Robin Wright. LINK

Pay attention, now folks — and particularly the naysayers of nuance: "The main differences, which play out on at least six key questions, are how they would achieve those goals and where Iraq fits into broader U.S. foreign policy. The most fundamental difference, which in turn shapes all other aspects of their policies, is the context of the Iraq war."

On the eve of the Clash, the DNC's independent expenditures arm is unveiling a new 30-second TV ad today, "One Question," that criticizes Republicans' planning in Iraq. According to a DNC spokesman, the ad will feature comments by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Sens. John McCain and Richard Lugar talking about the state of play in Iraq, will imply that the president has not been truthful about the war, and asks the "one question:" Will Americans finally hear the truth about Iraq?

Specifically a pre-debate ad, it will run in Florida only. DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe will take questions in a conference call at 11:00 am ET.


VO: Here's what some of the Republicans are saying about their plan in Iraq. TEXT: Here's what Republicans are saying about their plan for the war in Iraq

VO: "It's getting worse" TEXT: "It's getting worse" Colin Powell Secretary of State Sept. 26, 2004 ABC "This Week"

VO: "We're not winning" TEXT: "We're not winning" Senator John McCain Republican of Arizona Sept. 14, 2004 NBC Nightly News

VO: "The lack of planning is apparent" TEXT: "The lack of planning is apparent" Senator Richard Lugar Republican of Indiana Sept. 15, 2004 Federal News Service

VO: The Facts. TEXT: FACTS

VO: 200 billion dollars in costs. TEXT: 200 billion dollars in costs

VO: Daily kidnappings and murders. TEXT: Daily kidnappings and murders

VO: New terrorist havens. TEXT: New terrorist havens.

VO More than 1,000 U.S. Soldiers killed. TEXT: More than 1,000 U.S. Soldiers killed.

VO: This week it will come down to one question: TEXT: One Question

VO: Will Americans finally hear the real truth about Iraq? TEXT: Will Americans finally hear the real truth about Iraq?

The Clash in Coral Gables: strategy:

Kerry advisers are quoted in various places this morning on background talking about (a) mistakes Kerry has made in this campaign; (b) what Kerry's debate strategy will be; (c) how Kerry did GMA because of a blinding need to appeal to female voters; and that Kerry's current Iraq efforts are a "high risk" strategy.

Were these carefully crafted, Bartlett/Hughes-style authorized masterstroke "leaks," designed to achieve some macro campaign goal? Or loose-lipped counterproductive insanity?

We leave it to Bob Shrum, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and Mary Beth Cahill to decide.

Former Vice President Al Gore offers advice to Senator Kerry in a New York Times op-ed one day before the first presidential debate: "be prepared for the toughest debates of your career." LINK

"The debates aren't a time for rhetorical tricks. It's a time for an honest contest of ideas. Mr. Bush's unwillingness to admit any mistakes may score him style points. But it makes hiring him for four more years too dangerous a risk. Stubbornness is not strength; and Mr. Kerry must show voters that there is a distinction between the two."

"If Mr. Bush is not willing to concede that things are going from bad to worse in Iraq, can he be trusted to make the decisions necessary to change the situation? If he insists on continuing to pretend it is 'mission accomplished,' can he accomplish the mission? And if the Bush administration has been so thoroughly wrong on absolutely everything it predicted about Iraq, with the horrible consequences that have followed, should it be trusted with another four years?"

". . . a critical question in Thursday's debate will be whether Kerry can restore enough confidence in his leadership ability on Iraq to benefit from the lingering doubt over Bush's policies there," writes Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times. LINK

(Be sure to Note the Bartlett and anonymous Kerry adviser quotes!)

"The only thing he has to do is avoid a major gaffe," a senior Bush source tells Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News. LINK

The advice continues:

Chris Lehane offers this in the same article, "Bush has changed the argument into a referendum on who's better for the next four years . . . Kerry needs to make this a referendum on the last four years."

More: "Stylistically, Bush has been warned to 'avoid the swagger,' one old friend said, and stick with the talking points of his campaign stump speech."

DeFrank reports Bush aides also "have compiled a list of one-line zingers for the Republican to hurl at Kerry," and Kerry has been coached to "avoid the ponderous, nuance-laden expositions that made him a champion scholastic debater but have contributed to an impression, abetted by the Bush campaign, of a condescending windbag." In the words of a Democratic strategist, "Kerry has to speak like he's in a diner, not the well of the Senate."

Knight Ridder's Thomma and Davies write, "George W. Bush probably won the presidency in his debates against Al Gore. He could win it again — or lose it — in a rapid-fire series of three 90-minute debates with John Kerry starting Thursday night in Miami." LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Abcarian on the expectations game: LINK

Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times on the expected lack of spontaneity tomorrow evening. LINK

The St. Petersburg Times reports that President Bush will survey hurricane damage in Polk County today, and cancelled stops in St. Petersburg and Ft. Myers on Friday. Kerry flies into Ft. Lauderdale and holds a campaign rally tonight. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush v. Kerry: debate prep:

The President spent the day making debate prep look easy by fishing and cycling, Sen. Kerry spent the day preparing and taping an ad, campaign staffers kept up the back-and-forth, and Glen Johnson and Pat Healy of the Boston Globe wrote it all up. LINK

OH! And back in Washington: "campaign senior adviser Michael McCurry and other aides spent yesterday going over a set of post-debate talking points with senators, governors, and Democratic foreign policy advisers who will speak to reporters at the Miami debate site and in local media markets tomorrow night and Friday morning."

The Boston Herald's David Guarino writes about how few interactions Bush and Kerry have ever had. LINK

"A growing number of career professionals within national security agencies believe that the situation in Iraq is much worse, and the path to success much more tenuous, than is being expressed in public by top Bush administration officials," write the Washington Post 's Dana Priest and Thomas Ricks. LINK

"While President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others have delivered optimistic public appraisals, officials who fight the Iraqi insurgency and study it at the CIA and the State Department and within the Army officer corps believe the rebellion is deeper and more widespread than is being publicly acknowledged, officials say."

Our money is on John Kerry bringing this story up tomorrow night.

And maybe this one:

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Charles Pope looks at remarks by Cheney from 1992 on the ouster of Saddam when he told an audience at the Discovery Institute that "'the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?' Cheney said then in response to a question."

"'And the answer is not very damned many. So I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.'" LINK

Pope Notes: "The comments Cheney made more than a decade ago in a little-publicized appearance have acquired new relevance as he and Bush run for a second term. A central theme of their campaign has been their unflinching, unchanging approach toward Iraq and the shifting positions offered by Democratic nominee John Kerry."

Knight Ridder's Davis Goldstein reports that experts say neither candidate has a full proof way to handle Social Security. LINK

The Clash in Coral Gables: spin:

Doug Schoen uses a Los Angeles Times op-ed to remind us that what happens in the hours after the debate could prove as important as what occurs in the debate hall. LINK

The Miami Herald 's Beth Reinhard writes that the real action of tomorrow night's debate is in spin alley — and that the New York Times ' Adam Nagourney finds the whole post-game dervish room degrading. Another fun fact: AP and the Washington Post are closest to spin alley. So nyah nyah. LINK

The Clash in Coral Gables: the debate about debates:

David Bauder of the AP looks at the networks' battle with the campaigns over camera angles. Paul Schur on Fox's pool camera for Thursday: "We're providing all the networks' coverage and we're not going to follow directions from outside sources." LINK

NPR's Connie Rice calls the whole debate process a sham. LINK

The Clash in Coral Gables: the University of Miami:

Want to know what the students of the University of Miami think of all the rigamarole? Look no further. LINK

For day-in-the-life coverage of the first debate, there is no better source than the University of Miami's very own The Hurricane.

The campus prepares: LINK

Campus security: LINK

Student volunteers prep on procedures: LINK

What's in in for the University? LINK

The debates are, of course, the star attraction in Miami, but they're not the only game in town. For political junkies who just can't get enough, two pre-debate shindigs are going down today.

First, a look at the Latino vote at 11:30 am ET at the University of Miami. Univision anchor Jorge Ramos will moderate a discussion on the importance of Hispanic voters in the 2004 election, strategies to appeal to them, the issues that are key, and what the candidates are doing right and wrong in pursuing them. The panel includes Raul Yzaguirre, president and CEO of National Council of La Raza, and Joe Garcia, former director of the Cuban American National Foundation and an adviser to the New Democrat Network. LINK

And in the evening (6:00-7:30 pm ET), Newsweek teams up with the University of Miami to talk about Florida's role in presidential politics. Michael Putney, Chief Political Correspondent for WPLG-TV, will moderate the talk, which will include Eleanor Clift, Arian Campo-Flores, Newsweek's Miami bureau chief, and Martha Mahoney, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law and a member of Miami-Dade County Election Reform Coalition.

ABC News Vote 2004: Kerry-Edwards '04:

Some more excerpts from Part 1 of Diane Sawyer's exclusive interview with Sen. Kerry, which make us wonder how much more debate prep there is to do.

DIANE SAWYER: Was the war in Iraq worth it?

JOHN KERRY: We should not have gone to war knowing the information that we know today.

DS: So it was not worth it.

JK: We should not — it depends on the outcome ultimately — and that depends on the leadership. And we need better leadership to get the job done successfully, but I would not have gone to war knowing that there was no imminent threat — there were no weapons of mass destruction — there was no connection of Al Qaeda — to Saddam Hussein! The president misled the American people — plain and simple. Bottom line.

DS: So if it turns out okay, it was worth it?

JK: No.

DS: But right now it wasn't [ … ? … ]--

JK: It was a mistake to do what he did, but we have to succeed now that we've done what he's — I mean look — we have to succeed. But was it worth — as you asked the question — $200 billion and taking the focus off of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda? That's the question. The test of the presidency was whether or not you should have gone to war to get rid of him. I think, had the inspectors continued, had we done other things — there were plenty of ways to keep the pressure on Saddam Hussein.

DS: But no way to get rid of him.

JK: Oh, sure there were. Oh, yes there were. Absolutely.

DS: So you're saying that today, even if Saddam Hussein were in power today it would be a better thing — you would prefer that . . .

JK: No, I would not prefer that. And Diane — don't twist here.

Definitely suggests something longer than a two-minute statement.

And if Kerry wasn't already on guard to avoid a James Lee Witt moment, Steve Schmidt reminded him with this morning's rapid response to the interview.

BC04 says in e-mail that the Senator "took his eighth position on the $87 billion in funding to support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," saying that he voted for it before he voted against it reflects his protest of how the war would be funded.

What Kerry said:

"It just was a very inarticulate way of saying something, and I had one of those inarticulate moments late in the evening when I was dead tired in the primaries — and I didn't say something very clearly. But it reflects the truth of the position, which is — I fought to have the wealthiest people in America share the burden of paying for that war. It was a protest. Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted, and that's what I did."

And the oppo folks couldn't resist one last dig — about the French:

"Kerry also said this morning that he said he 'actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it' because he had 'one of those inarticulate moments late in the evening when I was dead tired.' According to a Washington Post article the day after the event, Kerry's comments were at a 'noontime appearance.' Perhaps his watch was on Paris time, where it was evening."

In the latest installment of his excellent John Kerry's Journey series, the New York Times ' Todd Purdum writes that Kerry and his supporters are counting on the reputation he "cemented" in his 1996 Senate campaign "and again in the Democratic primaries this year as a candidate who runs best from behind." LINK

"It remains to be seen whether an approach that has worked in Mr. Kerry's liberal home state or with Democratic primary voters eager to anoint a consensus candidate will be effective in a national election, but Mr. Kerry has little choice but to perform at his peak now."

"He clearly is trying. Over the past month, he has retooled his campaign staff, sharpened his attacks on Mr. Bush and set aside a planned focus on the economy in favor of a steady critique of the president's handling of the war in Iraq that has produced blunt headlines and more prominent news coverage."

Will Bill Clinton "selectively" campaign for Kerry in the home stretch of the race? Do not be surprised if he does, writes the Wall Street Journal 's Al Hunt. LINK

The Washington Times ' Lakely and Hurt report Democrats are happy with Kerry's new anti-war rhetoric. LINK

The Washington Post 's Keith Richburg takes an interesting look at world opinion of Bush and Kerry, and concludes that Kerry "appears to be the runaway favorite abroad." LINK

The AP's Mike Crissey wraps Sen. Edwards' Pittsburgh event Tuesday, during which he "sought to blunt growing support for President Bush among women voters and others concerned about national security by campaigning with a Sept. 11 widow in two states that suffered losses in the terrorist attacks." LINK

The Pennsylvania papers gave a shout out to Sen. Edwards' visit to the neighboring not-historical-battleground state of New Jersey. LINK and LINK

From a New York Times correction: "An article on Thursday about political advertising in the presidential campaign, including a commercial that accused John Kerry of having 'secretly met with the enemy' in Paris in the 1970's, misidentified the parties with whom Mr. Kerry said he had met at the Vietnam peace talks. (The error was repeated in articles on Friday and Saturday.) The parties were the two Communist delegations — North Vietnam and the Vietcong's Provisional Revolutionary Government — with whom he discussed the status of war prisoners. He did not say he had met with 'both sides.'" LINK

The Washington Post 's Mathew Mosk profiles Kristen Breitweiser, the 9/11 widow who has been campaigning with Sen. Edwards. LINK

The New York Post 's Hoffman and Gilmore make fun of Kerry's tan, likening him to George Hamilton. LINK

USA Today 's Martin Kasindorf reports that Mrs. Heinz Kerry "is taking a new tack during the final countdown to Election Day. She's subordinating herself to her husband's campaign strategists — but only in where she goes, not in her outspoken ways." LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush v. Kerry: the politics of Iraq and national security:

For all of Democrats' indignance about statements by Vice President Cheney and others playing up the idea that America will be more vulnerable to attack in a Kerry-Edwards Administration, KE04 and its allies are reading — and acting — from the same playbook and playing the fear hand, the Washington Post 's Jim VandeHei and Howard Kurtz write in a must read. LINK

"A senior Kerry adviser said the only way Bush can be defeated is if Democrats win, or neutralize, the debate on Iraq by playing up chaos and casualties there and convince voters the war undermined the hunt for bin Laden and other terrorists. The adviser said Kerry will make the argument the central theme of tomorrow's debate, when millions of Americans get their first look at the two candidates side by side."

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Mondics looks at how the Bush-Kerry dueling positions on the war on terror that "while marked by differences, also bear striking similarities." LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush v. Kerry: electoral strategy:

The Wall Street Journal 's John Harwood puts Rahm Emanuel's head together with Tom Cole's, and comes up with a surprising conclusion: both of these smart party veterans (now in office) agree about the likely outcome for the elections: LINK

"Mr. Kerry's opening begins at tomorrow's first presidential debate and ends at the last one 13 days later. Then, as Mr. Emanuel puts it, the electorate will 'close the book' of each side's arguments while the two parties turn to voter mobilization. The first debate is easily the most important, since the second and third will leave voters increasingly searching for what Mr. Cole calls 'confirming opinions' instead of new information.

"There is little doubt the battle will be won in the Midwest. Mr. Bush's best chances of capturing Democratic turf, both lawmakers agree, are Wisconsin and Iowa; Mr. Kerry's top-value target is Ohio. Leaving aside the un-Southern megastate of Florida, Mr. Kerry's route to victory won't include a surprise in the old Confederacy."

"Neither lawmaker's state, or his seat, is in play. Given scant genuine competition for House seats anywhere, odds are strong that Republicans will retain control of Congress.

And both men say it's more likely than not they and their colleagues will be working for four more years with Mr. Bush. Mr. Cole pegs chances for a Bush victory at around 60%, Mr. Emanuel at slightly better than 50%."

"What might the next four years bring the country? Probably not Mr. Bush's pet priority of Social Security overhaul, both lawmakers agree, since that difficult issue requires so much bipartisan cooperation."

"But Mr. Emanuel sees better odds for expanding health-care coverage and overhauling the tax code. The latter, he notes, could provide a face-saving way for Mr. Bush to reduce the fat budget deficits on his watch."

The New York Times ' Kit Seelye reports that President Bush, "for now at least, is surging ahead in several crucial states," some which he lost in 2000. LINK

"Experts caution that the race is highly fluid, but Mr. Bush, for now at least, is surging ahead in several crucial states. Polls show Mr. Bush making headway in Iowa and Wisconsin, both of which he lost last time. He was also building leads in Ohio and West Virginia, states he won in 2000."

And now some e-college math: "An analysis of state polls by The New York Times showed that the race in the last six days has been most competitive in nine states, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania. They have a total of 105 electoral votes."

The New York Times ' Timothy Egan says of the election "there truly are two Americas, to borrow a phrase from John Edwards: the swing states, which are fickle and fawned over, and the invisible states, which are predictable and as a result largely ignored." LINK

The Raleigh News & Observer 's Matthew Eisley has a piece, though well written, is sure to have plenty of eager readers scratching their heads today over the possibility of an Electoral College yielding a Bush-Edwards Administration. LINK

When the fellas at the top of the tickets are preparing for their debate, it is up to the Number Twos to fill that news cycle vacuum. James Gerstenzang of the Los Angeles Times looks at Cheney's and Edwards' Tuesday. (Note to Mr. Gerstenzang, Wisconsin only has 10 electoral votes.) LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: polls:

USA Today 's Mark Memmott has Gallup's rebuttal to LINK

The New York Times ' Jim Rutenberg on MoveOn v. Gallup. LINK

Josh Gerstein on the same: LINK

AP's Ron Fournier writes about the "mushy middle" of voters the AP calls "persuadable." The group is "deeply conflicted about change in the White House" with a mixture of problems with the way Bush has handled Iraq, and doubts about Senator John Kerry's ability to lead in a crisis of national security. LINK

Similarly, Will Lester looks at AP's poll of 1,329 persuadables, Noting "one in every five voters is persuadable — including about 5 percent who tell pollsters they don't know who will get their vote and about 15 percent who say they are leaning toward one candidate but could switch to another." LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush-Cheney re-elect:

The Los Angeles Times' Vieth fact checks the president's claim that Kerry's tax hike on "900,000" small business owners and entrepreneurs would hurt job growth. LINK

"According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, no more than half of the taxpayers with flow-through business income whose taxes would rise under Kerry's plan are classic small-business operators who employ other people."

"'It appears that fewer than 500,000 are in that category,' said Len Burman, co-director of the center. 'It's up to other people to decide whether that's a big number or a small number. But it's definitely far below 900,000.'"

The Washington Post 's Jennifer Frey eagerly anticipates President Bush's appearance today on "Dr. Phil." "What he'll say to Bush and Kerry is unpredictable — the show is not providing advance transcripts — but don't expect any 'news' or relevant campaign sound bites." LINK

But don't expect any policy discussions. "'We're not talking about Iraq,' says Chandler Hayes, the show's publicist."

The Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten writes up Bush's hometown paper (the Lone Star Iconoclast) throwing its support to Sen. Kerry. LINK

Scott McClellan's response: "'I haven't seen that, but I feel pretty confident about the people of Crawford and the state of Texas in this election and where they stand.'"

Tom Beaumont's lead in the Des Moines Register: "Cheney says John Kerry lacks the conviction needed to win the war on terrorism." LINK

DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, "shadowing Cheney in Dubuque," told Beaumont that he had a question for the Vice President: "'If I could ask Vice President Cheney a question at his town hall meeting, I'd say, 'Mr. Vice President, why do you keep telling us things are getting better in Iraq when they are not?'" McAuliffe said."

We have a feeling he may have to "shadow" Cheney a bit more before he gets the chance to throw that question to the Vice President.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole will hit the ground and campaign for the president next month. LINK

The terrorists are listening, said BC04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman in a conference call to reporters. And the Washington Times ' Bill Sammon writes that "Mr. Mehlman's words were the strongest attack on the Kerry campaign since Vice President Dick Cheney warned three weeks ago that a Kerry presidency would bring 'the danger that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.'" LINK

"But Mr. Mehlman yesterday was unapologetic about rhetorically linking the Kerry campaign with terrorists who have killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. It was not clear whether Mr. Bush planned to go that far in the debate."

ABC News Vote 2004: casting and counting:

The New York Times ' Michael Moss fronts at a potential election day disaster in the making — military and overseas ballots. LINK

"Election officials concede that tens of thousands of Americans overseas might not get ballots in time to cast votes. Late primaries and legal wrangling caused election offices in at least 8 of the 15 swing states to fail to mail absentee ballots by Sept. 19, a cutoff date officials say is necessary to ensure that they can be returned on time, a survey by The New York Times shows."

"The tardy ballots are just one of several setbacks or missteps that have affected the ability of the estimated 4.4 million eligible voters overseas to participate in the presidential election. Some have been unable to send their registrations to a Pentagon contractor's computers, which are clogged by thousands of voter forms. Others were denied access to a Web site designed to help Americans abroad vote. And many voters simply have had trouble navigating the rules and methods that determine how and when to register and vote and that vary by state."

The Times has a helpful graphic that lists deadlines and other pertinent information.

USA Today 's Kiely and Drinkard take a heavy look at early voting. LINK and LINK

After former President Jimmy Carter criticized Florida's elections in a Washington Post op-ed Monday, Gov. Jeb Bush wants a piece of him. LINK

"'There's this constant haranguing of nonsense, including by President Carter, which is a huge surprise to me because I have admired his compassionate actions in his post-presidency,' Bush said. 'Without talking to a single person, without getting any information, he joins up with the crowd, and I cannot tell you how disappointed I am.'"

Money in politics:

"The Federal Election Commission will appeal a judge's ruling last week that the agency must write tougher rules to regulate how millions of dollars are spent on campaigns," reports the New York Times ' Glen Justice. LINK

The AP looks at the FEC's move as well. LINK

From the outside:

The New York Times ' Kit Seelye reports that George Soros has announced "that he was sending himself on a $3 million 12-city tour to argue that keeping Mr. Bush in the White House would endanger the nation's security, economy and values and continue "the vicious circle of escalating violence in Iraq."" LINK

The Washington Post 's Hanna Rosin was at Soros' appearance yesterday at the National Press Club, Noting that the billionaire philanthropist "has placed himself in the thick of this election for more than a year," and that he "seemed more frustrated than combative. At several points he listed Bush's 'lies,' distortions that were so perfectly obvious to him, and yet, he complained, why didn't everyone see them?" LINK

George Soros' $3 million speaking tour: LINK

The Washington Times has its take. LINK

Soros will find competition in the square of public opinion from what the Wall Street Journal 's Jeanne Cummings calls "provocative new voices" who are being heard from this week.

A new group representing families of soldiers killed in Iraq will hold a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC today, and release a new ad featuring a mother talking about her son's death, in her own words.

Pennsylvanian Cindy Sheehan fights back tears as she shares the story of her son, a Humvee mechanic who was killed by a roadside bomb, framed in a message to George W. Bush. Between gasping breaths she says, "When you haven't been honest with us, when you and your advisers rushed us into this war how do you think we felt when we heard the Senate report that said there was no link between Iraq and 9-11."

It is reminiscent of Michael Moore's use of the mother from Flint, MI in Fahrenheit 9/11 and it's just the sort of thing that could make people think, coming out of news coverage of the most recent skirmish in Iraq.

The group Real Voices is sponsoring the ad. From the website: "If you had a minute to say anything you wanted to George W. Bush in front of thousands of American voters, what would you say? Chastise him for his foolish military adventure in Iraq? Scold him for domestic policies that hurt average Americans while enriching the few? Or just urge him to be honest with the American people for a change?" LINK

This first ad buy is $200,000, with plans to continue raising and spending money to keep it on the air. It will likely air in Las Vegas, Orlando and Albuquerque.

The National Progress Fund is out with a new 60-second ad this morning called "One Question." Shifting gears a bit, the group behind — which heads up the effort to minimize Nader's drain on Kerry support — has actually produced an ad with a message Nader himself might be able to get behind. It's a VERY small buy — $10,000-$15,000.

Focusing on the "national security failures of the Bush Administration," that one question, echoes Reagan's rhetorical asks: "Are we safer now than we four years ago?" The anti-Bush ad compliments the "stakes are too high" message that has been the undercurrent The Nader Factor's campaign.

For a sneak peek click: LINK

With the size of the buy still TBA — it will initially begin airing the ad in Florida (Miami-Ft. Lauderdale) today with a goal of hitting each city and state where debates will be held.

They are billing it as "the first debate focused commercial of the political season and seeks to ask the president this defining question (while providing an answer he's not likely to give.)"

With everyone getting in on the action, The Nader Factor's Chris Kofinis offers this advice to Kerry, "If the president is asked in the debate — and he should be — are we safer now than we were four years ago. The answer is no . . . and it is his policies and his Administration that have failed us."

ABC News Vote 2004: the Big Four battlegrounds: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin:

It ain't cheap to be a battleground.

"So far, Columbus has spent $215,177 for police and medics to escort the presidential and vice presidential candidates and their wives during visits dating from June 3. That doesn't include the two most-recent visits by Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, and Vice President Dick Cheney," reports the Columbus Dispatch. LINK

The Columbus Dispatch reports Secretary of State Blackwell "retreated" last night on his requiring voter registration forms on 80 lb. card stock paper. LINK

"Last night, a spokesman for Blackwell denied that the GOP officeholder was trying to prevent people from voting and said county boards should accept voter registration forms on paper of any weight as long as they are otherwise valid."

"'We're not the paper police. We're not going to go to county election boards and review voter registration forms,' said Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo. 'We want them to process the forms.'"

Knight Ridder's Carl Chancellor reports, "The Bush campaign, while pleased with the recent polls, thinks Ohio will go down to the wire." LINK

The Chicago Tribune's Jeff Zeleny reports from Florida, "Suddenly, the ever-shifting terrain on which the contest is being fought is more complicated than any other battleground state and beyond human control. Five weeks before Election Day, Republicans and Democrats face a new reality that no television ad or mailing can overcome. For them, the hurricanes have produced alarming collateral damage: indifference to the race." ">LINK

Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times looks at the influx of activists and political tourists to Florida. LINK

Top local story on the Miami Herald 's Web site: "Gas expected to top $2, and stay there." LINK

There's a major push to register college students in Pennsylvania going on before the state's Oct. 4 voter registration deadline. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Campbell reports that even out-of-state students are being pressured to register in the Keystone State. LINK

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Tina Moore profiles the legendary Pennsylvania state director Tony Podesta who is reprising his role from 2000 for the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Game: count the number of times Tony on his BlackBerry is Noted! Pennsylvania staffers Trisha Enright and Mark Nevins (the original KE04 PA man) get shout-outs as well. LINK

As the deadline for registration gets closer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette looks at voter registration in the swing county of Allegheny: "Through mid-September, the county had registered more than 40,000 new voters and thousands more are expected to file for registration between now and Monday's deadline. The new registrants include 21,859 Democrats, 9,369 Republicans, and 9,265 independents or members of minor parties." LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: the battlegrounds:

USA Today 's Debbie Howlett reports that at least eight battleground state cities have billed the campaigns for the security and logistical costs associated with their frequent visits, and only "one has gotten paid" so far. LINK and LINK and LINK

Knight Ridder's Chris Christoph profiles Michigan, where Bush is pushing hard, but Kerry still looks to be mostly in the clear. LINK

The Chicago Tribune's John McCormick reports, "President Bush outspent Senator John Kerry on television advertising last week in virtually all of the 10 most closely watched battleground states, even as the Massachusetts senator ramped up his spending in several of those states." ">LINK

Lynn Campbell of the Des Moines Register follows the absentee ballot problems in Iowa: State GOP warns party voters of "shadowy organizations like ACT and MoveOrg" which may "jeopardize your vote." Democrats say it smacks of intimidation. LINK

The Des Moines Register's Kyle Munson reports on another worry of MoveOn of Iowa: too many voters, not enough staff or tickets for it's "Vote for Change" tour stop: LINK

The St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports "Massive voter registration drives in Minnesota by campaigns, political parties and groups whose ideologies run across the political spectrum have caused the secretary of state to nearly exhaust a supply of 1.5 million voter registration forms this year, officials and activists said Tuesday." LINK

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports, "Minnesota will receive more than $2.8 million this year to help promote healthier lifestyles, officials said Tuesday." LINK

Alex Fryer in part 4 of his series on the environment and presidential


"The Regulator," John D. Graham: LINK

Mark Peters of the Portland Press Herald reports on teacher reaction to low grades in the subject of No Child Left Behind. LINK

President Bush has some making up to do in Southeast Arizona, where illegal immigration is a problem for residents and those residents/voters blame the president, according to the Arizona Republic. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: the Senate:

April Hunt of the Orlando Sentinel reports that Rudy Giuliani is talking up Mel Martinez on national security in a new TV ad. LINK

Steve Bousquet and Wes Allison of the St. Pete Times look at the latest round of ads from Martinez and Betty Castor, and Martinez's cleanup on some of his campaign's statements. LINK

Big-dollar Senate Republicans are moving six-figure donations from their re-election to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, says Paul Kane or Roll Call . LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: the House:

The House GOP is on the air with advertisements "in 24 of the 25 most competitive races, compared with 19 Democrats who have hit the airwaves." All but a handful of candidates are on the air, according to the Hill's skilled spreadsheet wizardry. LINK

The politics of national security:

Bradley Graham of the Washington Post takes a fascinating and lengthy look at the missile defense system, and reports that Secretary Rumsfeld is set to activate his missile defense site this autumn — as President Bush promised during the 2000 campaign — but "achievement is clouded by doubts, even within the Pentagon, about whether a system that is on its way to costing more than $100 billion will work." LINK

"This notion of building first and improving later lies at the heart of the administration's approach, which defense officials have dubbed 'evolutionary acquisition' or 'spiral development.' . . . At the outset, the system will be aimed only at countering a small number of missiles that would be fired by North Korea, which is 6,000 miles from the West Coast of the United States."

Speaking of North Korea policy, Graham turns in a companion piece saying that North Korea is cited as the key impetus for the missile system. LINK

"House Republican leaders vowed yesterday to work with senators to restructure the nation's intelligence operations this fall, a shift in emphasis after weeks of comments and actions that often stressed the House's differences with the Senate," report the Washington Post 's Chuck Babington and Walter Pincus. LINK

This is how the Wall Street Journal 's ed board begins their latest opinion piece: "Congratulations to Porter Goss for being confirmed last week as the new Director of Central Intelligence. We hope he appreciates that he now has two insurgencies to defeat: the one that the CIA is struggling to help put down in Iraq, and the other inside Langley."

The Washington Post 's Harold Meyerson says "Only if you believe the greatest threat to Republicans — excuse me, to America — is the Democrats, that it's worth blowing off the danger from Osama bin Laden to eliminate the peril posed by Daschle, does the Republicans' security policy make any sense at all." LINK

"A Yemeni judge sentenced two men to death and four others to prison terms ranging from five to 10 years Wednesday for orchestrating the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, an attack blamed on Osama bin Laden's terror network," the AP reports. LINK

The politics of school vouchers:

The Washington Post 's Sewell Chan looks at a study funded by School Choice Wisconsin that shows higher graduation rates among students using vouchers to attend private schools in Milwaukee than students enrolled in Milwaukee public schools. Clip and save for the presidential debate focused on domestic policy. LINK

On the Hill:

"Congressional Republican leaders, faced with dwindling time before a scheduled Oct. 8 adjournment, are considering delaying for weeks or even until next year legislation providing hundreds of billions of dollars for highway projects and government operations," reports the Washington Post 's Dan Morgan. LINK

Having weighed his options, Senator Rick Santorum wants to be the next Republican Whip, NOT Senate Majority Leader, Roll Call 's Mark Preston reports. LINK

Payback time for Zell: the Hill reports, "the week that Congress returned after the GOP convention, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) grabbed Miller's arm outside the Senate chamber and assured him, 'Don't worry about appropriations, I've already put that stuff of yours in there.'" LINK


A tough day for Nader on Tuesday.

After days of laborious hearings and review, the Ohio Secretary of State has determined Nader has an insufficient number of signatures to make the Nov. 2 ballot. The Columbus Dispatch reports Nader "ended up with 3,708 valid signatures of Ohio registered voters. That is 1,292 short of the 5,000 he needed to get on the Nov. 2 ballot as an independent candidate against President Bush and Democrat John Kerry."

The indomitable candidate will now appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, according to spokesman Kevin Zeese. LINK

Say what you want to about those folks at Nader-Camejo but they sure as heck are not quitters!

The same article Notes Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the campaign's request to put Nader back on the ballot in Oregon — denying a request for stay of the Oregon Supreme Court's decision. The lone voice of dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said he would grant the application for stay.

Nader's attorney says he will to file a petition for certiorari with the court. If the case is accepted, it will not be heard until after the Nov. 2.

And there was bad news for NC'04 in Wisconsin. LINK

But in New Mexico he had a win from the state's Supreme Court. LINK

Nader's running mate also had a little van trouble. LINK

Today in Washington the campaign will kick off a new segment of the Nader Van Caravan, first stopping by the Kerry HQ to offer John Kerry a few tips for beating Bush in the debate on Thursday. LINK

Glenn Adams of the AP reports that a Maine judge rejected a bid to keep Nader off the ballot: LINK


"The investigation of powerful GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his business associate Michael Scanlon led to partisan sparring yesterday as a Senate committee prepared to begin a hearing today into the millions of dollars in lobbying and public relations fees the pair were paid by Indian tribes that operate gambling casinos," write the Washington Post 's Susan Schmidt and Tom Edsall. Democrats are piling on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, saying that this probe, along with the indictments of three DeLay aides should keep him from campaigning for other members of Congress. LINK

TODAY'S SCHEDULE (all times ET):

—7:00 am: Diane Sawyer's interview with Sen. Kerry airs on ABC's "Good Morning America" —8:00 am: Vice President Cheney participates in a BC'04 roundtable at the Machine Shed, Lake Elmo, MN —8:29 am: Sen. John Edwards calls into MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning" —9:00 am: Senate GOP members meet to discuss the National Intelligence Reform Bill in a closed meeting at the Capitol, Washington, DC —9:30 am: The Senate meets to resume consideration of S.2845, the Intelligence Reform Bill —10:00 am: The House of Representatives meets for legislative business —10:00 am: The House Government Reform Committee holds a business meeting to mark up the provisions of H.R. 10, the 9/11 Commission Implementation Act, Washington, DC —10:00 am: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Whip Steny Hoyer, Caucus Chair Bob Menendez, Caucus Vice Chair James E. Clyburn, Congressman Jim Turner, Ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the Caucus Task Force on Homeland Security, and other House Democrats hold a stakeout following the Democratic Caucus meeting on the Republican intelligence bill, Washington, DC —10:00 am: Sen. Joe Biden holds a news conference on public diplomacy in the Senate Gallery, Washington, DC —10:30 am: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Sen. Rick Santorum hold a news conference on Medicare Advantage, Washington, DC —10:40 am: Vice President Cheney attends a town hall meeting at the Cirrus Design Corporation, Duluth, MN —11:30 am: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar meets with U.N. Ambassador Jack Danforth and USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios to discuss the situation in the Sudan at the Capitol, Washington, DC —11:30 am: Jenna & Barbara Bush speak at a "Students for Bush" rally at the University of Maine, Orono, ME —11:55 am: Sen. Edwards hosts a town hall meeting at the Weirton Conference Center, Weirton, WV —12:00 pm: Presidential candidate Ralph Nader holds a press conference, Ft. Myers, FL —12:00 pm: Families of military personnel killed in Iraq, part of the organization Real Voices, hold a news conference to unveil a new television ad asking questions of the President about the war in Iraq at the National Press Club, Washington, DC —1:00 pm: The Kerry campaign holds a briefing with U.S. Representative and Florida KE04 State Chair Kendrick Meek, KE04 Florida State Director Tom Shea, and KE04 Senior Advisor Tad Devine at the Omni Colonnade Hotel, Coral Gables, FL —2:30 pm: The Bush twins appear at "Students for Bush" rally at Bates College, Lewiston, ME —2:30 pm: The Senate Select Intelligence Committee meets to receive a closed briefing on intelligence matters, Washington, DC —3:00 pm: Ralph Nader holds a press conference, Sarasota, FL —3:00 pm: Dr. Phil's interview with President Bush airs on NBC (check local listings) —3:15 pm: President Bush participates in a walking tour of Orange Groves, Lake Wales, FL —3:30 pm: First Lady Laura Bush speaks at a "Victory 2004" rally at the Curry County Fairgrounds, Clovis, NM —5:30 pm: Ralph Nader holds a press conference, Tampa, FL —6:00 pm: Newsweek Magazine and the University of Miami co-host a pre-debate forum on "Why Florida Matters in Presidential Politics" with Matthew Dowd, Ann Lewis, Eleanor Clift, and others at the University of Miami, Miami, FL —6:05 pm: Laura Bush delivers remarks on the economy at D.R.B. Electric, Albuquerque, NM —7:30 pm: Laura Bush speaks at a "Heather Wilson for Congress" dinner at the Hilton Hotel, Albuquerque, NM —8:00 pm: Ralph Nader delivers a campaign speech at Centro Asturiano de Tampa Theatre, Tampa, FL