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55 days until Election Day 22 days until the first proposed presidential debate


Yesterday, we wrote that if the election dialogue is about Iraq, John Kerry can't win.

After we published those words, the day's rhetoric was dominated by Iraq, via statements from the candidates.

And it would not be wrong to say that, for the umpteenth time in a row, John Kerry had no better than a tie in the news cycle.

This despite the reality of the "facts on the ground" events of the day — the much-reported 1,000 American military death in Iraq and the record federal deficit — that should have been easy pickin's, even for the candidate of the Mommy Party.

Today, John Kerry goes to the same Cincinnati hall where George Bush once gave a big speech about Iraq to give his own (yet another . . . ) talk about the topic.

Let us be, as a great man once said, perfectly clear:

If the election debate is about John Kerry's capacity to explain his vote for the war resolution but against the $87 billion, he will lose. (Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post lays out the recent history illustrating our point in a must-read LINK)

But there are Kerry aides who argue that Iraq is going to be an issue in this race no matter what, and that there is room for Kerry to maneuver to his advantage (on the much Noted casualty milestone, on the financial cost, on the alienation of some traditional American allies).

Dick Cheney certainly raised the stakes in the national security war of words yesterday, and Kerry aims to do the same thing today.

In his speech, Kerry is expected to try to finally and once and for all clarify his position on the war in Iraq, and to put President Bush on the defensive for how he's conducted the war in Iraq.

"The reason Iraq is an issue in this campaign is NOT over the question of whether it was right to hold Saddam accountable. The reason it is an issue is because of the way George Bush went to war, making the wrong choices and weakening the United States here at home and overseas," reads a campaign memo to reporters.

Kerry is expected to discuss how Bush's "wrong choice to go-it-alone in Iraq without a plan to win the peace has taken the country in the wrong direction and shortchanged priorities here at home."

Expect to see Kerry meld foreign policy, which he once referred to as "two thirds of the job" of President, with his post-Labor Day focus on domestic priorities, hammering on the cost of the war in Iraq and what the money spent by "going it alone" could have gone to in the United States.

" . . . George W. Bush made the wrong choices. He himself now admits he miscalculated in Iraq. In truth, his miscalculation was ignoring the advice that was given to him, including the best advice of America's own military. When he didn't like what he was hearing, he even fired the Army Chief of Staff. His miscalculation was going to war without taking every precaution and without giving the inspectors time. His miscalculation was going to war without planning carefully and without the allies we should have had. As a result, America has paid nearly 90% of the bill in Iraq. Contrast that with the Gulf War, where our allies paid 95% of the costs."

"I would not have made the wrong choices that are forcing us to pay nearly the entire cost of this war — more than $200 billion that we're not investing in education, health care, and job creation here at home."

"$200 billion for going-it-alone in Iraq. That's the wrong choice; that's the wrong direction; and that's the wrong leadership for America. Time to make it right."

Meantime, Kerry goes on TV in battleground states and on national cable with a new ad, "Wrong Choices," which hits the president on the same themes as his speech.

It is, in our insta-judgment, one of the most effective spots of the campaign to date. See the full script below.

There's also an odd confluence of developments that are going to put the focus on the president's service in the National Guard as well — a cagily written Boston Globe story questioning the president's service record; a cleverly placed New York Times column; a new campaign commercial from a lefty shadowy 527; some newly released, previously "missing" documents; a must-see-TV episode of "60 Minutes II"; a Terry McAuliffe conference call; a strange transfer of FOIA authority to the White House; and a tough-as-nails Ed Gillespie pre-emptive pushback memo.

Texans for Truth holds a press conference and conference call today at 10:30 am ET to unveil its new television ad questioning President Bush's National Guard service during the Vietnam War, featuring former Alabama Air National Guard First Lieutenant Bob Mintz.

DNC Chair Terry McAullife will host an 11:30 am ET conference call on Bush's military records.

Then there's the face-to-face outreach within the party. Kerry campaign advisers, led by Tad Devine, hit the Hill today to meet with House and Senate Democrats, Roll Call 's spicy Chris Cillizza reports, to soothe jittery nerves about the campaign's message, media and polls, and to attempt to keep everyone on the reservation and "ensure a unified message over the final 55 days of the contest."

We bet the President's National Guard record comes up on the Hill, as a salve to soothe Swifty wounds.

President Bush begins his day with a 9:05 am ET meeting with both Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate in the Cabinet Room of the White House. He has already signed an emergency measure to help the good people of the Sunshine State.

The President flies to Florida in the afternoon for a 1:15 pm ET visit with relief workers in Port St. Lucie who are assisting Florida communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Frances, and to survey storm damage. President Bush then travels to Miami for a 3:35 pm ET tour of the National Hurricane Center as they prepare for the approaching Hurricane Ivan.

As Noted, Sen. John Kerry kicks his day off in Cincinnati, OH, to deliver what his campaign is calling a "major speech" at the Union Terminal at the Cincinnati Museum. Nearly two years ago, President Bush also spoke at the Cincinnati Museum where he made the case for war in Iraq.

Following his speech in Cincinnati, Sen. Kerry flies to Rochester, MN, where he holds a 4:10 pm ET front porch event.

Vice President Cheney takes a day off the campaign trail and is down in Washington today.

Sen. John Edwards campaigns first in West Virginia today, at a 12:00 pm ET town hall meeting at Fairmont State University in Clarksburg. He then travels to Orono, ME to attend a 5:00 pm ET rally.

ABC News Vote 2004: Vice President Cheney on national security:

The BC04 camp finds itself in a bit of a quandary today, walking back a bit from Vice President Cheney's comments yesterday at a town hall meeting in Des Moines IA, that "[i]t's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice. Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again."

Cheney continued: "That we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind set if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war."

The Vice President's initial remark is the strongest suggestion from the Bush-Cheney '04 ticket that a vote for John Kerry is the wrong choice that would make America less safe, a charge the Kerry/Edwards team strongly challenged.

Sen. Edwards responded: "Dick Cheney's scare tactics crossed the line today."

The Media Division of the Gang of 500 to a person found the Vice President's words way over the line.

ABC News' Karen Travers reports that aboard Air Force Two on the way back to Washington last night, Cheney spokeswoman Anne Womack explained the Vice President's remarks by saying, "Whoever is elected in November faces the prospect of another terrorist attack. The question is whether or not we have the right policies in place to best protect our country."

Womack said that the Vice President stands by his whole statement which provides the context for what he was saying about John Kerry's policies. Womack used the phrase "right policies" at least six times in a briefing that lasted less than five minutes.

"Both Vice President Cheney and the president Bush have both said that John Kerry has a fundamental misunderstanding of the war on terror," Womack said. "George Bush demonstrated over the past three and a half years that he will fight an aggressive war on terror. John Kerry's 20 year record in the Senate demonstrates vacillation and indecision so again the question is whether or not we're going to have policy in place that best protect America and that's what the Vice President was talking about."

When asked if Cheney was saying that electing Kerry will result in a terrorist attack, Womack repeated again "The Vice President is saying that we need to ensure the right policies are in place to protect America. That's the choice."

When asked specifically about Sen. Edwards' response, Womack declined to comment further.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl report other attempts by the Cheney camp continued to try to back Cheney's comments down last night, Noting that one top adviser said via e-mail, "AP overwrote. Bigtime."

Karl reports that another Cheney confidant told him, "It was not a calculated decision to make that statement." Cheney, according to this source, was simply going through his oft-repeated lines about the different views the president and Sen. Kerry have about the war on terror, and "It just came out a little different."

So, if the he had a chance to do it again, would he choose his words more carefully?

"Sure. If he had it to do over, he'd do it more clearly."

The Los Angeles Times' story on the to and fro over Vice President Cheney's remarks include Ann Womack's walkback while aboard Air Force Two. LINK

Tom Beaumont leads with Cheney's "we'll get hit again" comments in the Des Moines Register and points out that "Cheney has assumed the role of the Bush campaign's chief Kerry critic and has continually questioned the Massachusetts Senator's commitment to fighting international terrorism." LINK

Dana Milbank and Spencer S. Hsu of the Washington Post Note "Cheney went beyond previous restraints to suggest that the country would be more vulnerable to attack under Kerry" and piece together the campaign rhetoric yesterday. LINK

For more on the back and forth (and back and forth . . . ) between the campaigns and Cheney's comments:

The New York Times : LINK

The Boston Globe : LINK

USA Today : LINK

Gerstenzang and Nick Anderson profile the Vice President on the campaign trail and write that Cheney's "measured manner accentuates the take-no-prisoners message he is delivering several times a day in some of the most fought-over territory in the presidential race." LINK

President Bush and the National Guard:

During his long professional association with George W. Bush, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett has spent hundreds of hours patiently walking reporters through the facts of Gov. Bush's National Guard record.

Almost always hanging his hat on the peg of Mr. Bush's honorable discharge (and trying at all costs to avoid revisiting the president's Houston Chronicle quote about avoiding the war), Bartlett's silky smooth handling of the matter has kept things on a slow simmer or completely off the stove through several elections.

But now — as missing documents reappear with the suddenness of Rose Law Firm billing records and Bartlett is forced to acknowledge to the Boston Globe a rare misstatement — things seem a bit in flux.

The Boston Globe offers up an analysis of President Bush's National Guard records, and concludes that he fell "well short" of meeting his obligation. According to their reexamination of the Bush's military records: Twice during his Guard service — first when he joined in May 1968, and again before he transferred out of his unit in mid-1973 to attend Harvard Business School — Bush signed documents pledging to meet training commitments or face a punitive call-up to active duty. LINK

The Globe suggests the records are more "overlooked" than brand new. The networks will sort it out . . .

Texans for Truth is getting its turn at bat today — just in time for the "60 Minutes II" interview with Ben Barnes tonight. Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times has all the details on the outside ad campaign critical of President Bush's military service. LINK

The ad features Bob Mintz, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Alabama Air National Guard, who served at the Montgomery, AL air base during the time Bush claims to have served there in 1972. Mintz will speak in the ads, and in a news conference on Wednesday, saying he never saw George W. Bush at the base.

The ad buy is for between $100,000 and $250,000 (sound like a familiar number?) — to be nailed down today — targeting "swing counties which have had an above average casualties from the war," according to the group.


Text: Was George W. Bush AWOL in Alabama?

Visual: Bob Mintz sitting in front of an American flag.

Mintz: "I heard George W. Bush get up there and say, 'I served in the 187th Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama.'

"I said, 'Really, that was my unit? And I don't remember seeing you there.' So I called my friends and said, 'Did you know that George Bush served in our unit?' and everyone said, 'No I never saw him there.'

Text: Tell us whom you served with, Mr. President.

Mintz: "It would be impossible to be unseen in a unit of that size."

Text: George Bush has some explaining to do.

Voice over and text: Texans for Truth is responsible for this advertisement.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times speaks with Mintz, a former Air National Guardsman in Alabama, who claims that he never saw President Bush show up for duty at the Air National Guard in the fall of 1972, in what Kristof claims is his "first interview with a national news organization." LINK

USA Today 's Mark Memmott Notes that the ad "could renew questions" about Bush's National Guard service. Ya think? LINK

Memmott Notes: "Texans for Truth is an arm of DriveDemocracy, an Austin-based organization that got its initial funding from the liberal group"

CEG speaks!: the doctrine of pre-emption:

In a memo going to congressional supporters of President Bush and top Republicans today, RNC chairman Ed Gillespie lays out the charges he expects the candidate to face in the coming days and sort of smears Senator Kerry in the process of denouncing Kerry's smears!

The subject line of this memo is "brace yourself."

"In response to President Bush's Agenda for America's Future and a critique of his policies and Senate record, Senator Kerry's campaign is implementing a strategy of vicious personal attacks against the president and Vice President."

"It's not like Bob Shrum needed encouragement to engage in personal attacks. At a Kerry rally Friday morning in Ohio, campaign surrogate John Glenn compared the Republican Convention to a Nazi rally, and Kerry called the president unfit to lead our nation and once again sought to divide the country by who served and how 35 years ago."

Gillespie writes that "Democratic strategist" Susan Estrich revealed the new strategy in her column.

"So the former Dukakis campaign manager has an advance copy of Democrat donor Kitty Kelly's book, which promises to throw unsubstantiated gossip at President Bush in the same way she falsely maligned the late President Reagan as a date rapist who paid for a girlfriend's abortion and wrongly castigated Nancy Reagan as an adulterer who had an affair with Frank Sinatra. A recent story says Kelly's book alleges President Bush used cocaine at Camp David while his father was President, which is as credible as her story that then Governor and Nancy Reagan smoked marijuana with Jack Benny and George and Gracie Burns."


"And tonight on CBS, longtime Democratic operative Ben Barnes -- a friend of, major contributor to and Nantucket neighbor of Senator Kerry's and vice chair of the Kerry Campaign--will repudiate his statement under oath that he had no contact with the Bush family concerning the president's National Guard service. (Anyone surprised that Barnes would contradict a statement he made under oath probably doesn't know his long history of political scandal and financial misdealings.)"

"So brace yourselves. Any mention of John Kerry's votes for higher taxes and against vital weapons programs will be met with the worst kind of personal attacks. Such desperation is unbecoming of American Presidential politics, and Senator Kerry will pay a price for it at the polls as we stay focused on policies to continue growing our economy and winning the War on Terror."

The politics of Iraq:

The Los Angeles Times on the death toll hitting 1,000: LINK

"President Bush did not directly comment on the tally, but Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cast the death toll as evidence that the U.S. was aggressively engaging terrorists around the world. At a Pentagon news briefing, he said that in the overall scheme of the Iraq war, the losses were 'relatively small.'"

The Chicago Tribune's Neikirk and Zeleny look at how the 1,000-person death toll played in politics yesterday and even before then. They even touch on how it could play in key states. LINK

"A senior Republican adviser said the Bush campaign had been warily watching the casualty count, fearful that it might hit the 1,000 mark during the Republican convention last week and interrupt the heavily scripted event dedicated to praising the president's Iraq policy and the war on terrorism."

"Four states eyed by Republicans and Democrats as potentially pivotal to the election have endured more than their share of war deaths on a per capita basis, a Tribune analysis shows. The number of deaths per million residents is among the highest in Arizona, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin."

The Hartford Courant's David Lightman looks at why certain milestones are important and meaningful. LINK

The New York Daily News marks a "terrible milestone in the controversial war" as the death toll in the war in Iraq grows. On Tuesday President Bush told a crowd in Missouri, "My promise to them is that we will complete the mission so that their child or their husband or wife has not died in vain." LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Kerry-Edwards '04:

Script of the new ad:


"George Bush.

$200 Billion for Iraq.

In America, lost jobs and rising health care costs.

George Bush's wrong choices have weakened us here at home.

The Kerry Plan.

Stop tax incentives for companies that ship jobs overseas.

Lower health care premiums by up to a $1000 per family.

Reduce the deficit to protect Medicare and Social Security.

Stronger at home. Respected in the world."

John Kerry:

"I'm John Kerry and I approved this message."

Once again, Mary Dalrymple of the AP previews Sen. Kerry's speech today on the president's broken promises. "The speech showed Kerry shifting from a defensive stance, fending off charges of inconsistencies on the war, to an aggressive challenge of Bush's decisions in the run-up and aftermath of war." She Notes the aftermath means domestically and internationally. LINK

Previewing today's speech, the Cincinnati Enquirer's Greg Korte reports that Kerry will have a smaller audience and a smaller stage than President Bush had when he addressed the Chamber of Commerce in 2002. LINK

Glen Johnson's synopsis of yesterday clearly illustrates how Sen. Kerry is not following the don't-talk-about-Iraq warnings. LINK

Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post writes that Kerry's comments in August about the war in Iraq are now coming back to haunt him. LINK

The Washington Times ledes that Kerry said yesterday that the "only legitimate reason" for invading Iraq was the threat of weapons of mass destruction, when less than a month ago "he said he would have voted to authorize war even if he knew such weapons would not be found." LINK

Scot Lehigh's Boston Globe column today looks at the camps inside the Kerry camp. LINK

"There's the old infrastructure of former Ted Kennedy staffers Cahill and Stephanie Cutter plus consultants Bob Shrum, Tad Devine, and Mike Donilon; there are the new Clinton recruits; and there are Kerry's longtime Boston advisers."

The Washington Post 's Jeffrey Birnbaum reports that "in bolstering his inner circle of advisers with veterans from previous Democratic campaigns, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) has also chosen to hire lobbyists with close ties to a wide array of businesses, including drug companies and Microsoft Corp." LINK

The AP ad guru Liz Sidoti Notes the arrival of the negative Kerry ads all over the country. LINK

Read Al Hunt's entire Campaign Journal column for his take on the Kerry staff news, the state of the race, and even ballot measures!

"Local Democratic officials told The Observer they weren't sure if Mr. Kerry could recover from a month's pounding by the Bush campaign. One major contributor to Mr. Kerry's Presidential campaign, who insisted on anonymity, even said he'd probably damp down his giving to Mr. Kerry's campaign over his disappointment with how it is being run," reports Ben Smith of the New York Observer. LINK

Glenn Hubbard (remember him?) writes in the Wall Street Journal that John Kerry is likely to raise your income taxes.

The New York Observer weighs the pros and cons of Teresa Heinz Kerry. LINK

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

Ron Brownstein offers up a Los Angeles Times news analysis exploring George W. Bush's Trumanesque attempt to restructure the United States' foreign policy goals and strategies. LINK

The New York Times on the Log Cabins sitting out the race. LINK

The Los Angeles Times reports the Log Cabin Republicans are starting to look forward to Gov. Schwarzenegger's reelection campaign, should there be one. But in this year's top contest, the group is staying on the sidelines. LINK

"Some demographers believe that if Bush loses any of this support because of his backing of a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage, it could hurt the president's chances in November of winning several battleground states — Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Washington."

"Exit polling found in the 2000 election that 45,000 gay voters cast ballots for Bush in Florida, which he carried by 537 votes."

The Kansas City Star's Kraske follows the President's trip, and his remarks, across the Show-Me state yesterday — speaking to ticket-holding supporters with sprinkled protesters along the way (the largest protest group gathered outside his Lee's Summit event). LINK

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Notes he was "playing both political defense and offense before large and mostly friendly crowds." LINK

Rick Klein looks at the BC04 strategy and chances in New Hampshire, after Cheney's visit to Manchester yesterday. LINK

The Washington Post 's Harold Meyerson takes a look at President Bush's "game of risk" with the economy. LINK

Howard Kurtz takes a look at the much-anticipated Kitty Kelly book about the Bush family. In the article, Kurtz quotes Peter Gethers, vice president of Random House and editor of the book saying, "Some things didn't make it, and we're 100 percent confident of the things that made it in. We erred on the side of caution because we knew how hard she was going to be hit." LINK

The New York Post 's Deb Orin looks at Barbara and Jenna Bush's poll ratings and declares Karen Hughes "vindicated." LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush v. Kerry:

The New York Times ' Sanger and Halbfinger wrap of yesterday includes this: LINK

"In citing Dr. Dean's words to mock Mr. Kerry, the president was clearly trying to associate the Massachusetts senator with a candidate whom the White House always hoped that it would face. Mr. Bush's campaign officials have viewed Dr. Dean as the personification of the liberal pacifist wing of the Democratic Party, a candidate they could use to excite Mr. Bush's base and to make undecided voters deeply uncomfortable at a time of threat."

"Cheney's remarks distracted attention from Kerry's blunder in using a new line on Iraq — 'the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time' — that was stolen from antiwar Democrat Howard Dean and made Kerry look like a flip-flopper," writes Deb Orin of the New York Post . LINK

Gerald Seib in the Wall Street Journal writes the Bush and Kerry are making a mistake by focusing their foreign policy debate on the past and Iraq when there are so many other challenges to face in the future.

Walter Shapiro writes that "no presidential campaign since liberal Walter Mondale took on Ronald Reagan in 1984 has offered the stark ideological choice of Bush vs. Kerry." LINK

Richard Stevenson does his best Teddy Davis impression (we kid . . . ) LINK

(See: LINK)

Andrew Bushell of the New York Times reports on the political battle over ketchup. LINK

The debate about debates:

After announcing yesterday that its debate team will be led by James Baker, the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign may skip one of the three presidential debates, Mike Allen reports in the Washington Post . LINK

While Bush aides "refused to discuss their opening position," Allen learned from "[o]fficials familiar with the issue" that Bush will accept the first debate on domestic policy and third debate on foreign policy.

Why not the second debate? The audience would be a group of undecided voters picked by the Gallup Organization and Allen reports that "campaign officials were concerned that people could pose as undecided when they actually are partisans."

ABC News' Jonathan Karl reports that "According to a Bush campaign official, the president just met with James Baker for the first time to discuss the negotiations over debates. . . . The Bush campaign, not surprisingly, denies it has made any decisions about the number of debates. "'I don't know who is talking to Mike,' this official said, 'but the president just met with Baker for the first time . . . we are just starting the process.'"

And the Washington Post editorial board rips the Bush campaign for considering skipping one of the scheduled presidential debates. LINK

The New York Daily News well-wired Tom DeFrank reports the same thing — President Bush only wants two debates and will push for a seated format that he believes plays to his strengths, according to a senior GOP source. He also says Bush hopes to eliminate a town hall-style format for the second debate, "where the contenders would be questioned by undecided voters." LINK

Watch closely the expectations game here — not just how the candidates will do, but what kind of tinkering with the Commission plan the Bush campaign goes for.

Can you say "trial balloon"?

Congress returns:

The Washington Post 's Helen Dewar and Chuck Babington look at how addressing the United States' intelligence concerns tops the priority list for Congress as members return to session. LINK

USA Today 's William Welch has a list of things Congress has on the docket for this fall: taxes, energy reform, drug imports, highway funds, and gun control. LINK

President Clinton's health:

The New York Times ' Dr. Lawrence Altman updates the condition of President Clinton. LINK

"The breathing tube inserted into his lungs before surgery had been removed, and Clinton was talking with his wife and daughter in the intensive care unit" reports David Brown of the Washington Post about the former president's condition post surgery. LINK

USA Today 's Charisse Jones reports that "heart specialists said Tuesday that [Clinton] could experience mild depression as well as pain in the days ahead but could be back to work in a few weeks." LINK

Maki Becker and Adam Lisberg Note now Yorkers are coming down with a case of Bill Clinton Syndrome. While 42 recovers from quadruple bypass surgery, prominent cardiologists report "a spike of as much as 50% in calls from concerned patients yesterday because of the former President's lifesaving operation." LINK

The New York Post looks at how Bill Clinton's surgery is increasing awareness of heart disease. LINK

" … the ex-president has gotten so many bouquets of flowers, hospital officials are now having them delivered to another building, where some are being distributed to other patients," reports the New York Post . LINK

The politics of the 9/11 commission:

9/11 commission chairs Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, respond in the Washington Post today to two major criticisms they have heard over their recommendations to reorganize U.S. intelligence operations. Kean and Hamilton make no reference of President Bush but they Note that three years has passed since 9/11, and in that time there has been another intelligence failure, this time in Iraq, before warning "the time has come to act." LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: the battlegrounds:

The AP reports that Nevada's primary, where voters were the first in the nation to use computerized voting machines that leave a paper trail for records, was successful. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: casting and counting:

ABC News' Marc Ambinder reports that today, the Iowa Democratic Party will send out mail to more than 300,000 voters in Iowa to urge them to vote absentee, either in person or by mail. On Sept. 23, what the party calls its Ballot Chase begins — calls and door-knocks to make sure those voters who requested ballots send them in, and to urge those who haven't requested ballots to do so.

Party executive director Jean Hessburg tells ABC News that they hope to bank 100,000 absentee voters in this first round — and more than 200,000 by the end of October. (The unions will help the party chase those voters.)

Absentee voting in Iowa isn't as easy as 2002 — a voter then literally could scrawl a request on a used cocktail napkin to get a ballot sent home — but it's a cornerstone of the Democratic Party's field strategy. Hessberg is convinced that banking these votes can help erase that traditional (and cultural) Republican advantage on election day — registered Republicans tend to vote at a higher rate than Democrats.

Boosted by ACT, union efforts and 501(c)3 groups, the Democrats have narrowed the registration gap in Iowa to about 11,000 voters, and Hessberg said she expects that gap to be zero by the end of the year. Democrats are signing up voters at four to five times the rate of Republicans, she claims.

Of course, all this moves the denominator . . . while early voting moves the numerator.

The other key September states to watch for no-excuse early and absentee balloting: Arizona — Sept. 30, and South Dakota (for its Senate race), Sept. 21.

The Republicans know all this, of course. They're about to conduct out their second voter registration mass-mailing. Around the time of the GOP convention, they sent out hundreds of thousands of absentee ballot reminders.

The politics of Hurricane Frances:

The Wall Street Journal takes a look how the hurricane season has affected the politics of Florida.

"As a result, the outcome in the state, which President Bush won by a scant 537 votes in 2000, could hinge on whether voters are satisfied with federal aid to hurricane-affected areas — and, perhaps more important, whether large numbers of voters in Republican bastions are too distracted by the storm's aftermath to boost the party's turnout."

"'Turnout is key to the presidential election in Florida," says Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration at Florida State University in Tallahassee. The so-called Republican horseshoe, from Naples north to Interstate 4 and down to the affluent communities on Florida's eastern coast, is where three-fourths of the state's Republican are concentrated. That area was hit twice by the storms, which could dent the turnout for Mr. Bush, says Mr. deHaven-Smith."

Perhaps — but, based on our own reporting, Republicans in Florida say there's plenty of time between now and election day for people to recover enough to vote, and the rapidity and efficacy of the federal response is helpful to the president.

Jeb Bush may call the state legislature into special session to deal with the economic impact of the twin hurricanes. LINK

Will his popularity boost help his brother? LINK

Adam C. Smith of the St. Petersburg Times looks at the sticky situation the hurricanes have put the presidential candidates in — though the president's is a little better than his challenger's. LINK

"Today, President Bush flies into Southeast Florida to survey Frances relief efforts and tout billions of dollars in coming federal aid. He gets to act presidential, but he stands to gain politically."

"Meantime, look at John Kerry's predicament. The Democratic presidential nominee essentially has been frozen out of campaigning in Florida because of Charley and Frances. No politician wants to be seen as exploiting a tragedy or appearing insensitive by staging a political rally while a state is reeling."

And this is the headline from the Orlando Sentinel: "Storms blow Kerry off track in Florida." LINK

Thank you, Sir, may we have another? Hurricane Ivan is on its way to the Florida coast, and the Tallahassee Democrat reports that Gov. Bush is "lobbying for more federal aid and may call a special session of the Legislature to address insurance issues and economic problems caused by the storms." LINK

And, yes, the candidates for U.S. Senate in the Sunshine State are having trouble too. LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

"This year's federal budget deficit will reach a record $422 billion, and the government is now expected to accumulate $2.3 trillion in new debt over the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office reported yesterday" writes Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post . LINK

"Making Bush's previous tax cuts permanent would nearly double the 10-year shortfall to $4.5 trillion," writes Warren Vieth of the Los Angeles Times on the latest CBO deficit numbers. LINK

Edmund Andrews of the New York Times reports that "even if the United States saved billions of dollars by withdrawing all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush would still be unlikely to fulfill his promise to reduce the federal budget deficit by half within five years," according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. LINK

The Washington Post 's Robert Samuelson looks at how both President Bush and Senator Kerry are evading the nation's largest budget problem: "controlling federal retirement spending." LINK

Big Casino budget politics: Medicare:

Robert Pear on the GAO report that faults Thomas Sculley on the Medicare data withheld from Congress. LINK

"The Department of Health and Human Services should have withheld former Medicare chief Thomas A. Scully's salary last year because Scully wrongly kept a subordinate from giving Congress higher cost estimates on the Medicare prescription drug law, the Government Accountability Office said yesterday," reports Christopher Lee of the Washington Post . LINK

The politics of guns:

Dan Eggen of the Washington Post reports that gun makers have begun to take orders for assault rifles as the ban nears expiring. LINK

From the outside:

The New York Times ' Justice and Rutenberg look at the close web of connections between Democrats and the 527s., focusing today on the Stan Greenberg shuffle. LINK

Reproductive politics:

"Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's arbiter of doctrinal orthodoxy, has given Roman Catholic voters leeway under certain circumstances to vote for politicians who support abortion rights," reports the Washington Post 's Alan Cooperman. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: the Senate:

And the national media thinks the presidential race is heating up, well, Alan Keyes is telling Illinois voters that Jesus would oppose Barack Obama. Why? "[B]ecause of votes Obama has cast in the state Senate against anti-abortion legislation." LINK

Sen. Bill Frist has set Oct. 8 as the "optimistic" date for adjournment, in order for Senators to go home and campaign before returning after Nov. 2, according to Roll Call . LINK

Roll Call looks into Senator Rick Santorum's revealing remarks about his plans for 2006 or 2008, while speaking before a meeting of Jewish Republicans. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Nader-Camejo '04:

Ralph Nader failed to place his name on the ballot in Virginia yesterday after officials said that he failed to submit enough valid signatures, reports Michael Janofsky of the New York Times . This is the sixth state to keep Nader off the ballot; however the independent presidential campaign is conducting it's own review. LINK

Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese vows they will "check and see if they got it right, and if they didn't, we'll sue them," reports Michael Shear of the Washington Post . LINK

Steve Miller of the Washington Times Notes "[F]or Democrats, it's a serious case of deja vu, although this time, they saw Ralph Nader coming."

Nader will appear on the ballot in Florida as the Reform Party's candidate. LINK


The Los Angeles Times' Michael Finnegan provides an excellent look at the Golden State's political geography. LINK

Campaigns and Elections has an nifty political blog roll we'd like to you to click on: LINK

The gossip roll is especially handy!

TODAY'S SCHEDULE (all times ET):

—9:00 am: House Democrats hold a closed party caucus, Washington, DC —9:00 am: House Republicans hold a closed party caucus, Washington, DC —9:05 am: President Bush meets with bipartisan members of the House of Representatives and Senate —9:30 am: Sen. John Kerry speaks at the Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati, OH —9:30 am: FBI Director Robert Mueller and Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin testify before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on building an agile intelligence community, Washington DC —10:00 am: The House meets for legislative business —10:00 am: The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on judicial nominations, Washington, DC —10:00 am: The House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the performance of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington, DC —10:00 am: The Labor Department issues July Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) —10:00 am: Rev. Al Sharpton and actor Bill Cosby speak before the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference, Washington, DC —10:30 am: Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan speaks before the House Budget Committee, Washington, DC — 10:30 am: Texans for Truth press conference and conference call to unveil its new television ad about President Bush's National Guard record —10:30 am: The Senate reconvenes for morning business, Washington, DC —11:30 am: The Senate takes up HR 4567, the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, Washington, DC —12:00 pm: Sen. John Edwards participates in a town hall meeting at Fairmont State University, Clarksburg, WV —12:30 pm: Senate Democrats hold a closed party caucus, Washington, DC —12:30 pm: Senate Republicans hold a closed party caucus, Washington, DC —12:30 pm: Rock the Vote, the New Voters Project, and the Student Voting Rights Campaign hold a press conference in the Capitol to announce their initiative to boost the student vote on college campuses, Washington, DC —1:15 pm: President Bush visits Relief Efforts in Response to Hurricane Frances, Port St. Lucie, FL —3:35 pm: President Bush tours the National Hurricane Center, Miami, FL —4:10 pm: Sen. Kerry attends a front porch event, Rochester, MN —5:00 pm: Sen. Edwards attends a rally at the University of Maine, Orono, ME