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57 days until Election Day


Every winning presidential campaign has:

A. A candidate who is in control of his public image.

B. A clear and consistently delivered positive message that thematically derives from the candidate's biography.

C. A clear and consistently delivered negative message that thematically derives from what the American people are already predisposed to dislike about the opposition candidate.

D. (Semi-)clear lines of authority at the upper levels of the campaign about who does what, put in place by a strong candidate with vision and animated by a shared passionate desire to win.

E. An "adult" staffer on the plane who has known the candidate for years, can tell him anything, knows his rhythms and moods, and who understands politics, policy, PR, and campaigns at the highest levels.

F. A traveling press corps whose belief that the person they are covering can win in November not-so-subtly informs every syllable they write and broadcast.

Are John Kerry's chances of winning the White House imperiled by the fact that there were more frustrated-blind-quote-driven, sausage-making-process-oriented stories from inside his campaign this weekend than there have been cumulatively about the Bush campaign this entire cycle?

Think of that stark fact as more a symptom than a disease — although it is both.

It has caused no amount of "how-could-that-be?" head shaking within the tight-knit circle that runs the president's re-election campaign that the details of Saturday's Bill Clinton-John Kerry tutorial phone call could leak so fast and so fully.

And as the Bush campaign just laughs and laughs and laughs behind their poker faces at how easily they have banished the economy, health care, poverty, jobs, and the chaos in Iraq from the national debate, the biggest danger for Kerry right now in the wake of the president's Swift post-New York lead is that the left will give up on him.

You can put money on this: BC04RNC will subject John Sasso to their innovative gimmick of press releases attacking the pasts of any new Kerry operatives.

Still, we are pretty sure most Americans don't care where Joe Lockhart's office is in relation to Bob Shrum's. And the media's desire to find "shake ups" and conflict just might, might be overstated in this case.

Still (Note Note: only on holidays do we break our rule of not starting two consecutive paragraphs with the word "still."), two important weekend must-reads give insight into the pre-elex post-mortems already being penned.

On Sunday, Frank Rich offered up a gut check on how the presidential campaign has gotten out of hand — and way off issues — to being about who did what during Vietnam, who's a bigger tough guy, and "castration warfare." LINK

"Don't believe anyone who says that this will soon fade, and that the election will henceforth turn on health-care policy or other wonkish debate. Any voter who's undecided by now in this polarized election isn't sitting around studying the fine points. In a time of fear, the only battle that matters is the broad-stroked cultural mano a mano over who's most macho. . . . It's Mr. Kerry's behavior now, not what he did 35 years ago, that has prevented his manliness from trumping the president's."

Also on Sunday, Harold Meyerson wrote in the Washington Post that "it's not Reagan's spirit that suffuses the Bush Republican Party; it's Richard Nixon's" — and it showed, he argues, with every attack leveled against Kerry, every diatribe launched, even in spite of the big-tent talk. LINK

Rich blames Bush and Kerry, while Meyerson blames (mostly) Bush (and Nixon).

Can Team Kerry hold things together until/unless the public polling settles down and gravity grabs 50%+ of the bounce?

As Joe Lockhart and Bob Shrum would agree, only time will tell.

As we write this, former President Clinton is in the OR at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, undergoing quadruple bypass surgery.

President Bush spends Labor Day in Missouri and holds a 5:00 pm ET rally in Poplar Bluff.

Vice President Cheney also campaigns today, attending a 11:30 am ET town hall meeting in St. Paul, MN, and then travels to Clear Lake, IA, where the Cheneys will attend a picnic at 2:30 pm ET.

Sen. Kerry is also busy on the campaign trail, starting his morning at 8:30 am ET at a front porch event in Cannonsburg, PA. Kerry then goes to Racine, WV for a 1:45 pm ET picnic before ending his day at a 6:45 pm ET picnic in Cleveland, OH. Expect to see this message on the Kerry campaign's press releases today: "W stands for wrong: Wrong choices, wrong direction."

The campaign is spending its Labor Day talking about the economy, jobs, and health care with a new report entitled "A Failed Record: Jobs Quality," which slams job creation and workers' benefits under the Bush Administration, complete with a conference call with former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and the campaign's economic policy adviser, Jason Furman, to explain it.

On his own, Sen. John Edwards hits three states, stopping first in Milwaukee, WI for a 11:00 am ET front porch event. Then Edwards goes to St. Paul, MN for a 3:00 pm ET picnic and finally to Kalamazoo, MI, for a 8:00 pm ET block party.

Tomorrow, President Bush stays in Missouri, with three events: a speech in Summit, an "Ask President Bush" event in Sedalia, and another speech in Columbia. His schedule is TBD until Friday, when he heads back to West Virginia and then on to two stops in Ohio — an "Ask President Bush" event in Portsmouth and a speech in Chillicothe.

Tomorrow, Vice President Cheney goes from a town hall meeting in Iowa to another in New Hampshire. He is down in Washington, DC on Wednesday. Cheney hits the trail again on Friday with three stops in Wisconsin, talking to voters in Green Bay, Sheboygan, and Milwaukee.

Tomorrow, Sen. Kerry is scheduled to stop in North Carolina and then Ohio, where he attends an event in Toledo on Wednesday before heading to a front-porch event in Rochester, MN, then on to Des Moines, IA.

Look for a big speech on Iraq in Ohio on Wednesday.

Kerry rallies in Des Moines on Thursday before heading to New Orleans to address the National Baptists Conference. On Friday, Kerry is in St. Louis, MO, and Philadelphia, PA.

Sen. Edwards goes to a rally tomorrow in Chillicothe, OH, before attending a DNC fundraiser in Bloomington, IL. On Wednesday, he heads to West Virginia for a town meeting, and then up to Maine.

President Clinton's health:

Former President Clinton is in the OR for quadruple heart bypass surgery. ABC News' Roger Sergel reports:

"Doctors at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital waited to perform surgery because Clinton was given the so-called super aspirin Plavix when he was seen by doctors at Westchester Hospital with his chest pain. Plavix increased the risk of bleeding during surgery, and studies show the risk of bleeding decreases if surgery is done after five days. Some heart specialists told ABC News that they like to wait at least 72 hours for surgery after Plavix is given."

A key question, Sergel Notes, is whether or not Clinton will have "off pump" bypass surgery, which keeps the heart beating during the operation rather than putting the patient on a heart-lung machine and stilling the heart to perform the bypass procedure. Dr. Craig Smith, who will perform the operation, is a well-known advocate of off pump, which would also reduce the risk of bleeding."

"The question of which operation would produce the least risk of short-term mental decline might be important if Clinton hopes to resume campaigning after surgery and before the election and would want to be mentally sharp in public appearances," Sergel reports.

The Washington Post 's Shankar Vedantam walks through Clinton's surgical options. LINK

On CBS' Early Show, the Kerry campaign's Joe Lockhart talked about President Clinton, saying he was pretty nervous when he first went in for the angiogram, but he has taken the last couple days to learn about the process and he feels better about it now. When asked how much Clinton will be missed on the campaign trail, Lockhart Noted that he will certainly be missed, but if the doctors tell him to take four weeks off, he will take two.

The New York Post reports Clinton and his family was playing "Boggle" in the hospital while awaiting his surgery. LINK

The Boggle-playing ex-Prez is in good spirits. LINK

The New York Times ' Lawrence Altman reports in Monday's paper that the Columbia-Presbyterian Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital where former President Bill Clinton is being treated has the "highest death rate for the operation in New York State, according to the state's Health Department. While the death rate is quite low — less than 4 percent of all bypass operations — it is still nearly double the average for hospitals in the state that perform bypasses." LINK

ABC News' Sergel points out that "the doctor quoted [in this story] is from a competing hospital, who happened to do Dave Letterman's surgery. Competition over heart surgery patients is intense in every city."

The New York Daily News profiles "Bubba's Lifesaver," a 55-year-old former fullback for the Williams College football team and master of tiny robots. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Sen. Kerry layers and re-adjusts:

Key graphs from the New York Times ' Adam Nagourney and David Halbfinger, some of which are tonally or factually disputed by some Kerry aides — and we like any story that forces Shrum to go on the record:

"People close to Mr. Kerry said he was receptive to the counsel and was moving to widen his circle of advisers in the face of mounting concern among prominent Democrats about the potency of Mr. Bush's campaign. They noted that Mr. Clinton and his strategists were architects of the only winning Democratic presidential drives since 1976. Even so, some of Mr. Kerry's aides insisted that their seeking help from Mr. Clinton was not a reflection of flaws in their campaign." LINK

"Mr. Kerry's aides insisted that the Clinton advisers were augmenting the staff as it headed into a difficult period, and did not represent another instance in which Mr. Kerry was shaking up his campaign staff."

"Still, some Democrats described what was taking place as a slow-motion shake-up as Mr. Clinton's former advisers assume increasingly powerful roles."

"[Stan] Greenberg, who was Mr. Clinton's pollster in 1992, resigned Tuesday as the pollster for independent Democratic groups that have been running advertisements attacking Mr. Bush so that he would be permitted, under the law, to play a more prominent role in advising Mr. Kerry's campaign."

"The notion that the campaign was settling on a new message for the fall came as news to some senior staff members."

'That's really groundbreaking,' one senior aide said sarcastically when told about the focus on Mr. Bush's policies outlined by Mr. Johnson. 'I think our negative frame should be that George Bush is a liar. He misled the country on Iraq. And then everything else that he lies about, bring it back to that.'"

The Washington Post 's Lois Romano and Dan Balz report that former President Clinton told Senator Kerry over the weekend that he needs to get both his offensive and defensive acts together, hit President Bush harder on his record, and (bold italics ours) "offer voters a more compelling case in his own behalf if he hopes to win the election in November." The dynamic duo also look at the passel of veteran Clinton operatives Kerry has added to the payroll — look forward to seeing John Sasso on the plane, and Michael Whouley manning tactics at the DNC, where Howard Wolfson will help run communications. LINK

Joe Lockhart hit the morning shows today to downplay President Bush's bounce and try to turn the post-Labor Day focus to domestic issues. Bush has "no sense of reality" and that "reality is something people feel" in their jobs, in their health care, and in their schools that are "not performing," Lockhart charged. He said morale is great in the Kerry campaign and that the new additions are simply a part of a "large operation" becoming a "huge operation."

On Sunday, the New York Times ' Adam Nagourney and Jodi Wilgoren took an ominous must-read look at how Democratic governors, senators, fundraisers and strategists are urging the Kerry campaign to amp up and be a little quicker on the draw in responding to attacks by the Bush campaign and other Republicans. Of course everyone loves a good smackdown, but Dems seem to be particularly worried that all their work at unity and strategy could go to waste if Kerry can't turn around its less-than-zesty performance of the past few weeks and get the conversation back on firm footing for the Senator. LINK

"Kerry shook up the internal dynamic of his organization Sunday," write Maura Reynolds and Matea Gold in their Los Angeles Times recap of what's becoming the president's regular Sunday visit to West Virginia and the goings on at Camp Kerry. LINK

The Kerry-Edwards campaign is hoping John Sasso can earn his political Bronze Star and rescue Sen. Kerry from himself. Pat Healy of the Boston Globe serves up a few good blind quotes to explain just how Sasso's arrival on the Kerry campaign plane is a strong attempt to turn things around. LINK

"In a phone conversation between the two men, Kerry acknowledged that his own campaign performance has lacked the precision and clarity that he feels is necessary to beat President Bush, aides added."

"'The candidate told Sasso that he wants to put the choice this November before the American people in very clear, simple language, that he feels that hasn't been happening,' a senior adviser to Kerry said yesterday. 'When all is said and done, if we feel we've put the choice between Kerry and Bush before people and they know the options, they may not vote for Kerry, but we've done all we can do. The candidate hasn't felt that's been happening nearly as much as it needs to.'"

On Sunday, the Boston Globe 's Eileen McNamara made the case that Sasso isn't the guy to fix John Kerry's fortunes. LINK

Deb Orin of the New York Post loved Mary Matalin's "Meet" observation about troubled women campaign managers so much that she decided to lead her 'Kerry in trouble' story with it. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush v. Kerry:

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times assesses the state of the race. After going through Kerry's recent failures, Brownstein calculates the balance between "reassurance" and "persuasion" and determines Kerry needs to spend more time on the later. LINK

". . . the forceful case for continuity that Bush offered at his convention has compounded Kerry's problem. The Democrat was already failing to harvest enough of the constituency for change. Now he faces the additional risk that the change constituency itself will shrink after Bush's energetic effort to remind voters of what they liked about his record."

We also love Brownstein hammering home one point: "To repeat: More than anything the candidates do, events may determine whether Bush tips above or below that line."

Bob Novak writes that Republican strategists were confused about Kerry's "newest tactic: going to Springfield, Ohio, for a midnight rally targeting both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for missing combat in Vietnam." [They] figured Kerry would want to close the door on investigation of his own combat record. He instead delivered a glancing blow at Cheney's student draft deferments 40 years ago and then, in a meandering stump speech, drifted from health care to Iraq and back to health care. His late-night audience, in the picturesque Ohio town square, seemed anesthetized." LINK

"There never has been any doubt about Bush's tactics. Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman and the rest of his campaign team believe in the efficacy of negative politics. Attacking the opponent early and often is actually recognized, however privately, by operatives of both parties as the way to win elections. That is why Kerry's recent behavior is puzzling, especially when compared with Bush's plan."

The Los Angeles Times' Nick Anderson does some truth squadding of all that campaign rhetoric flying around the stump. LINK

The New York Times ' William Safire says that Democratic criticism of Kerry's campaign focus "caused Kerry to overreact. Instead of moving away from the Vietnam issue, which has been a real toothache for his campaign, he bit down on it. Uncharacteristically, he took the low road, overtly contrasting his war duty with Dick Cheney's draft deferments." LINK

"That flailing-out was done more in anger than in calculation. Millions of Americans of draft age in the 1960's who are voters today were deferred from service by virtue of student status or fatherhood. They do not appreciate having their deferment attributed to lack of patriotism. Now Kerry has unnecessarily upset a lot of non-veteran swing voters."

The AP's Loven does a little campaign staff v. campaign staff action, with mini-profiles of Karl Rove and Mary Beth Cahill. LINK

Washington Post Polling Director Rich Morin takes a fantastic look at how undecided voters think, sitting down with a focus group in Erie, PA, over the weekend, who said they want to hear less negativity, see fewer ads, and focus less on Iraq and 9/11 — and hear more about the economy and health care. Morin essentially offers a blueprint for reaching out to undecided voters and touching on the ideas that could motivate them at the polls. LINK

" . . . they see a campaign that, at best, has paid lip service to the issues that affect them more directly than either Iraq or terrorism. So they remain on the sidelines, confused, conflicted and bored."

Time magazine's Karen Tumulty writes up the latest Time poll — conducted during the Republican convention, before President Bush's acceptance speech — which shows Bush leading Kerry, 52 percent to 41 percent. LINK

Newsweek's poll, written up by Brian Braiker, shows President Bush and Sen. Kerry in the same position — 52 percent to 41 percent, respectively. Braiker Notes that the survey took place both before and after Bush's speech, and that those polled on Friday gave him a 16-point lead over Kerry. LINK

Gossipy Newsweek has Kerry mad at Cahill for un-Swiftness in response time.

On Sunday, the Washington Post 's David Broder and Dan Balz described the challenge that John Kerry faces going into the fall, trying to turn toward issues when safety and national security are at the forefront of both voters' minds and the president's message strategy. The Kerry camp is focusing on a state-by-state strategy, tailored to audiences in each one. The Bush campaign, on the other hand, is taking a more national focus, relying on the idea that states will follow national trends. Either way, the county-by-county GOTV ground game is vital to both. LINK

On Saturday, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times wrote that though President Bush is leaving his convention with a lead in the polls, he's also facing a new, energized, angry John Kerry, which means "a contest that remains fundamentally close, increasingly bitter and, ultimately, still unpredictable." Bush has momentum on his side — at least for the moment — and both Andy Kohut and Bill McInturff agreed that it may not be for keeps. And what's happening down the stretch is a campaign not about the candidates' strengths, but about their weaknesses, and about who can convince voters that the other is worse. LINK

On Sunday, the Boston Globe 's Pat Healy and Anne Kornblut took a look at the Bush and Kerry strategies going into the home stretch, with the Kerry camp shrugging off new poll numbers showing that President Bush picked up a healthy bounce out of his convention to focus on jobs and Iraq, and the Bush camp's aim to keep Kerry on the defensive so that he loses ground in the battleground states. LINK

"For the moment, momentum seems to favor Bush. Members of his inner circle said yesterday that they envisioned a tantalizing possibility: seizing the lead and refusing to let Kerry regain ground in the 58 days left, and running an offense through at least the end of September to widen gains in battleground states such as Missouri, West Virginia, and Arizona."

"If Bush can move those states into his column, he can concentrate on states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, which Democrat Al Gore narrowly captured in 2000."

In Sunday's New York Times Week in Review, James Dao looked at how the focus on the Rust Belt states as the campaigns focus on the battlegrounds has changed the debate on politics from national to regional — which could alienate voters whose states are more solidly red or blue — or at least a little less purple. LINK

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten and Matea Gold wrapped the weekend's campaigning in Ohio, where Medicare took center stage, with Bush defending his plan and Kerry slamming it for hiking premiums. LINK

Time magazine's Jyoti Thottam compares the Bush and Kerry economic plans. LINK

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

President Bush is in Poplar Bluffs, MO, today, where he will focus on his small business agenda as part of the Post -convention "Opportunity Tour." Vice President Cheney hits up Minneapolis for a town hall meeting and then heads on to Clear Lake, Iowa for a Labor Day picnic. No Republican presidential candidate has won Minnesota since 1972 or Iowa since 1984 but BC04 campaign Notes "the race in both states is within the margin of error today."

The Washington Post 's Mike Allen wraps this weekend's comments by President Bush, indicating that a flat tax and a national sales tax could be part of his second-term tax overhaul plan. LINK

Revenue neutral, to be sure, but what about those distribution tables???

Bob Hillman of the Dallas Morning News observes that when President Bush calls the tax code a "complicated mess," it's "a guaranteed crowd pleaser, drawing hoots and hollers everywhere. LINK

But, Hillman Notes, Bush "offered no details Sunday during a re-election campaign rally at the Parkersburg High School football stadium. Nor have his aides offered more than a two-page fact sheet of tax reform priorities and principles" since the RNC.

The New York Post 's Ian Bishop leads with the president's claim that John Kerry would raise taxes on 900,000 "small businesses," but neglects to include Phil Singer's at-the-ready response. LINK

Despite the fact that there were no obvious Kerry supporters at his rally in Parkersburg yesterday, Joe Curl of the Washington Times reports that President Bush reached out to Democrats and independent voters there, saying they were "welcome." LINK

The AP's Laura Meckler Notes that Vice President Cheney "will be key to turning out the Republican base this November." LINK

But campaign officials tell Meckler that Cheney will also be deployed to persuade undecideds.

Meckler reports that "[o]ver the next two months, Cheney plans to travel as many as five days each week to battleground states. He will go to conservative areas where President Bush runs strong, and to some areas where the race is tighter," according to chief strategist Matt Dowd.

Eduardo Porter of the New York Times looks at the expectations game played with job numbers, Noting that the job added last month would have been considered a disaster according to President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers forecast last December. LINK

Sebastian Mallaby writes in the Washington Post that President Bush admitting that there have been miscalculations in Iraq, that the war against terrorism may not be winnable, and that it may instead be a "long-lasting ideological struggle" may actually help the president get re-elected. LINK

US News' Washington Whispers reports that campaign aides have made President Bush a sort of mix tape to psych him up for his debates against Senator Kerry: "Aides cut a highlight tape of Kerry's personal attacks on the president. Bush listens to them--for inspiration." LINK

Can we suggest the "Rocky" theme song?

Check out the Wall Street Journal 's editorial on NCLB, which blames the Bush Administration for ignoring its own precepts and essentially turning the bill into an increase in education spending without accountability, which is what the WSJ's ed board feared it might be all along.

On Sunday, David Broder of the Washington Post wrote that President Bush's acceptance speech really was a mission accomplished — demonstrating confidence, giving an outline for a second-term domestic agenda, and adding sound assurance that the situation in Iraq is progressing. LINK

On Sunday, the New York Daily News' Thomas DeFrank looked at the confident stance of the BC04 campaign, which is enjoying its bounce while keeping a wary eye on Iraq. LINK

On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times' James Rainey took a look at how much Christian conservatives were encouraged by the Republican convention. LINK

"As a result, conservative activists have a number of plans for getting out Bush's message as Nov. 2 draws nearer. After distributing 70 million printed voter guides through church circulars in 2000, the Christian Coalition of America plans this year to use a similar approach."

"This time, however, the organization is likely to print about half as many guides and target them more precisely, into about 17 of the most closely contested states. The coalition has preliminary plans to increase its wallop in those states by distributing the guides not just in churches but in shopping malls and other public places where undecided voters might be found, said William F. Thomson, the organization's national field director."

The Washington Post 's Glenn Kessler on Sunday looked at the way that focusing on 9/11 draws attention away from Iraq for Republicans. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Kerry-Edwards '04:

One day after deploying the Sunday talk show troops to explain mistakes were made, the Washington Times ' Audrey Hudson Notes the Kerry campaign "is banking on a new round of paid television advertisements to catch up to Mr. Bush," including a negative ad accusing Bush of being "insincere on issues affecting senior citizens." LINK

Pat Healy of the Boston Globe pens an especially detailed piece on the complications of Senator Kerry using Vietnam to define himself politically — beginning with the decision to allow Douglas Brinkley to write "Tour of Duty." It seems the candidate knew it was a gamble, but surprises such as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have left a big question mark over whether Vietnam will define him as good or evil. LINK

The AP reports a man who fought on the opposite side of Kerry in Vietnam, "would vote any day for his former enemy over President Bush." LINK

Mark Z. Barabak traveled to Boston to offer up his Los Angeles Times' look at the 1996 Senate race against Bill Weld and how it may or may not prove instructive for this year's presidential contest. LINK

We couldn't resist Stuart Stevens' attempt to debunk the "Kerry's back against the wall propelled him to victory" myth.

"Today, some minimize Kerry's achievement. Stuart Stevens, who produced TV ads for Weld, points to the huge Democratic registration advantage in the state. 'It's a bit like the U.S. military saying their finest hour was the invasion of Grenada,' Stevens said. 'It was hardly a fair fight.'"

Helen Kennedy of the New York Daily News writes about the "extraordinary interest in the 2004 election" that is proven by the people who line the roads to catch a glimpse at Kerry's passing caravan. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Ralph Vartabedian wrote on Saturday about criticism Teresa Heinz Kerry leveled against the "Christian right" in 1994, saying that religious conservatives spread hatred and aimed for "'the dark corners of the human soul.'" LINK

The story offered nary a hint as to how Mr. Vatabedian suddenly stumbled upon this speech, or why the piece was buried in the Saturday Los Angeles Times — a political-media graveyard if ever there was one!!!!

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

Kit Seelye of the New York Times takes a closer look at Ohio voters and the issues that are forming the choice for president there. The economy, the war, the candidate's records and gut feelings all play a role. LINK

For Kerry, the most stark implicit conclusion Ms. Seelye draws is that for some voters in southeastern Ohio, it ain't the economy, stupid.

On this Labor Day, the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Eckberg looks at the larger numbers of retirees going back to work — some because they want to and some because the need to. LINK

The Columbus Dispatch's Mark Niquette reports, "Experts say most Ohio taxpayers have benefited from Bush's tax cuts, even if higher state and local taxes offset federal cuts for some. Most people's overall tax burden still is lighter, the experts say." LINK

That's a lot of experts in one sentence!!!

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dresang and Gilbert write about how Gov. Jim Doyle is managing to both tout significant economic recovery in Wisconsin and relay the Democrats' message that the "economy is not up to par." LINK

John McCormick and Jeff Zeleny of the Chicago Tribune chatted with undecided voters in Wisconsin and Note, "Interviews conducted last week with three dozen likely voters from Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota revealed an electorate deeply frustrated with Bush's handling of the Iraq war and one almost completely lacking in burning excitement for Kerry." Sound familiar? LINK

John McCain has lamented publicly about the reopening of Vietnam wounds. The Philadelphia Inquirer (as we like to say) takes a closer look. LINK

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette uses the traditional Labor Day kickoff to size up (on the front page, below the fold) the state of both the Bush campaign LINK and Kerry's post-RNC "decidedly feisty tone." LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: the battlegrounds:

KE04 and BC04 take the Midwest by storm. LINK

The Des Moines Register's Tom Beaumont reminds us of how absentee voters made the difference for Gore in Iowa in 2000 and reports on all the efforts to get absentees there this year. LINK

The Detroit Free Press' Labor Day lead headline: "U.S. workers take a hit as pay stalls, costs rise: Job quality looms large as November vote nears" LINK

The Detroit Free Press also explores the elusive Michigan undecided voter. LINK

The Albuquerque Journal continues its series looking at issues in the presidential race affecting the West. Today's installment explores the Bush and Kerry positions on drilling to expand domestic oil production. LINK

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday: "There are, it seems, battleground states — and then there are battleground states." Looking at one of those latter battleground states, the paper looks at Michigan AFL-CIO leader Mark Gaffney's attempts to fire up the base. LINK

From the outside:

John Podesta and David Sirota offer up a Labor Day Los Angeles Times op-ed questioning the president's commitment to the middle class. LINK

The politics of Hurricane Frances:

The Washington Post 's Michael Grunwald and Manuel Roig-Franzia wrap the landfall of Hurricane Frances in Florida this weekend, as the weakening storm battered the recovering state, tearing the roofs off thousands of homes and leaving millions without power. President Bush declared a disaster in 18 counties, and an estimated 6,000 workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are expected to be stationed in the area by this week. LINK

Martin Merzer, Cara Buckley, Daniel Chang, and Wanda DeMarzo of the Miami Herald report that things are beginning to return to normal in South Florida. LINK

The Orlando Sentinel's Wes Smith and Pamela Johnson look at the wide swath of damage across the state wrought by Hurricane Frances, the status of emergency workers and services, and Hurricane Ivan in the distance. LINK

Gov. Jeb Bush issued an order on Sunday allowing the state to ration gasoline, but officials say they don't plan to take that step immediately. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: casting and counting:

On Sunday, the Washington Post 's Jo Becker and Dan Keating took a must-read look at the outmoded voting machines still in use throughout the country, including punch-card ballots in Ohio and Missouri, which is enough to send shivers up any spine when looking ahead to 58 days from now. All of the provisions of the Help America Vote Act have not been put in place yet, and many of the key overhauls won't happen until after Nov. 2. LINK

The politics of same-sex marriage:

Cheryl Wetzstein of the Washington Times gives a status check of the legal battles regarding gay marriage amendments. In Louisiana: over. Michigan: possibly over. And in three others there is still a fight to put it on the ballot. LINK

The politics of national security:

The Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva, yesterday's White House print pooler, looks at Kerry's call for an investigation into Sen. Bob Graham's claim that the Bush Administration "blocked an inquiry into allegations that Saudi Arabian government agents aided two of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." LINK

"Graham's book, alleging 'an attempted cover-up by the Bush administration,' maintains that mention of the ties between Saudi agents and the Al Qaeda hijackers are contained in 27 pages of the congressional investigation's report kept secret by the White House."

Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel shot back: "John Kerry is flailing about, making baseless attacks grounded on the discredited assertions of a former presidential candidate. The Kerry campaign has added a lot of new people lately. I wonder if ["Fahrenheit 9/11" filmmaker] Michael Moore is their new foreign policy adviser."

ABC News Vote 2004: Nader-Camejo '04:

In today's Boston Globe , College of the Holy Cross History Prof. David J. O'Brien writes that even among the throngs of people upset with Ralph Nader's decision to run, the independent presidential candidate has still got it. "When it comes to matters of democratic practice and the public interest, Nader, to steal Jesse Jackson's phrase, 'keeps hope alive.'" LINK

In Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, Ralph Nader accused both Democrats and Republicans of employing dirty tricks to keep him off the presidential ballots in a variety of states. "Ballot access laws are so arbitrary and complex that they leave small parties open to legal pestering." Not to mention a party collecting signatures to put a candidate on the ballot that it thinks will hurt its opponent — but evidently refusing to take that help doesn't violate principles. LINK

Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Nader.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune's Bob Von Sternberg reports that Nader looks to be safe on the ballot in Minnesota and DFL Chairman Mike Erlandson says that Democrats there won't try to stop him. LINK

The AP reports Nader drew a crowd of 800 to a campaign event in Missoula, MT, this weekend, where he will be on the Nov. 2 ballot as an independent. LINK

Though he's not on the Idaho ticket, Nader made some noise in Boise this weekend. LINK

The AP's Rachel Zoll Notes Ralph Nader "made an aggressive pitch" for the endorsement of the American-Muslim leaders this weekend. LINK

Republican National Convention: aftermath:

Stephanie Gaskell of the New York Post writes up Rudy Giuliani's Newsweek numbers stating he swayed more voters than any other convention primetime speaker not on the ticket. LINK

The New York Daily News is still talking about Giuliani's speech. Didn't that happen like, a week ago? A new Newsweek poll shows 50% of voters want Giuliani to run in 2008. LINK

What are we going to do about that joke about dangerous places, Chuck Schumer, and a television camera? Apparently, New York's senior senator chose not to rebut Senator Miller's convention speech even though he was requested to do so. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' George Skelton gives very high marks to Gov. Schwarzenegger for his convention speech. LINK

Gov. Schwarzenegger made a mid-flight change in plans heading back west from New York. The weekend in Sun Valley apparently sounded much more appealing than Sacramento. LINK


Also marking the occasion of today's launch of the final eight-week sprint, the New Yorker's David Remnick went down to Nashville, TN to spend some time with that fella who won the popular vote (second largest vote total to Ronald Regan's 1984 reelection campaign) last time around. LINK


Last week on TV or in the newspaper, next week on the campaign: Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post looks at the swinging doors between operative and talking head. LINK

Paul Begala, over to you.

TODAY'S SCHEDULE (all times ET):

—8:30 am: Sen. John Kerry attends a front porch event, Cannonsburg, PA —11:00 am: Sen. John Edwards holds a front porch event in Libby Court, Milwaukee, WI —11:30 am: Vice President Cheney and Mrs. Cheney attend a town hall meeting at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, St. Paul, MN —1:45 pm: Sen. Kerry attends a Labor Day celebration with mine workers at John Slack Memorial Park, Racine, WV —2:30 pm: Vice President Cheney participates in a Labor Day Picnic, Clear Lake, IA —3:00 pm: Sen. Edwards attends the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly's annual labor day picnic, St. Paul, MN —5:00 pm: President Bush holds a rally, Poplar Bluff, MO —6:45 pm: Sen. Kerry attends the annual Congressional Labor Day picnic in Luke Easter Park, Cleveland, OH —8:00 pm: Sen. Edwards attends a Labor Day block party in Bronson Park, Kalamazoo, MI