ABC News' The Note: First Source for Political News

Although a Kerry spokesman has said that the Democratic ticket doesn't necessarily agree with everything that was said, does anyone believe that the President would be let off the hook that easily if the situation were reversed?

Of course, national security is front and center too, with the reports about bin Laden and a terror threat; the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre 9/11 events; the Atta-Cheney churning; and, most of all in some ways, Democrats suspicions that the Bush Administration will use terrorism warnings to enhance the President's re-election prospects (suspicions that will receive a sympathetic media ear all year).

While we wait to see where this all goes, there are an usually large number of must-reads today for you to look at:

-- USA Today's Judy Keen and Jill Lawrence have what we think is the first Edwards interview since he was picked, and look at the "values" competition that began in force yesterday with the new Bush ad and the Democrats' potty-mouthed Hollywood fundraiser at Radio City. LINK

-- Adam Nagourney's lay of the land about Sen. Edwards' appeal to rural and independent voters in the New York Times. LINK

--The New York Times' Dick Stevenson on the Bush camp painting a picture of Sen. Kerry as out of step with voters' values. The definition wars continue. LINK

--The debate over whether Sen. Kerry should opt out of public financing for the general election, as outlined by the New York Times' Jim Rutenberg and Glen Justice. Whether the idea is insane depends on where you stand. For their part, the Bush campaign says they have no plans to opt out, according to spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish, but the story points out that BC04 could pull the trigger on a change after Kerry has already committed. LINK

-- Carla Marinucci's look at the financing of the Nader-Camejo campaign in the San Francisco Chronicle. LINK

--Carl Hulse's look at the Senate taking up gay marriage and what it means to the election year in the New York Times. LINK

-- The New York Times' Ralph Blumenthal reports that "Military records that could help establish President Bush's whereabouts during his disputed service in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago have been inadvertently destroyed, according to the Pentagon." Among the records destroyed -- and for which no back-up paper copies could be found -- are payroll records covering three months in 1972 and 1973 during which questions about the President's National Guard service in Alabama have been asked. LINK

"There was no mention of the loss . . . when White House officials released hundreds of pages of the President's military records last February in an effort to stem Democratic accusations that he was 'AWOL' for a time during his commitment to fly at home in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War."

--The Washington Post's Al Kamen on Sen. Kerry's pre-convention schedule and the pinch-hitting Secretary of State Colin Powell did for Glenn Kessler in Indonesia. LINK

-- The Washington Post's Robin Wright and Glen Kessler on Sen. Edwards' foreign policy ideas and record -- an incredibly favorable portrait of the Senator as a young politician on these issues. LINK

-- Whether you agree with the New York Times' Paul Krugman or not, he distills the tax-cuts-versus-health-care-expansion argument down quite nicely today. LINK

Ralph Nader and Howard Dean will debate today at the National Press Club at 2:00 p.m. ET. ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE?

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