The Note

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When Bush vs. Kerry is fought out on national security terrain (as it was yesterday and as it will be today), four things seem to happen:

1. The election is framed as "steady" vs. "risky change" — and we know who wins that, at least for now.

2. Kerry strains, with the BC04RNC boot on his neck and the conservative echo chamber swarming like wasps all over his face, to clear the national security bar (essential if he is to have a chance to win).

3. In straining to clear the national security bar, Kerry tends to say things that sound like a sort of combination of the worst tendencies of Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Howard Dean.

Yesterday's (latest) example, in responding to the Bush ad on the $87 billion supplemental appropriation ("I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.") is sure to be exploited in this news cycle by the Bush campaign.

Besides turning off the press corps and the rest of the Gang of 500, these types of statements keep Kerry from clearing another bar he must clear to win: the Do-Americans-Want-This-Guy-In-Their-Living-Rooms-For-Four-Years? bar.

Bill Clinton WAS, on one level, justified in pointing out that the word "is" has several particular meanings; Al Gore DID sort of take the initiative to create the Internet; international war criminals ARE entitled to a presumption of innocence, as Howard Dean said.

And John Kerry's meandering, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand-on-the-other-other-hand justifications often do have some intellectual and policy justifications — but even some of Mr. Kerry's own advisers recognize that they sure as heck don't win the rat-tat-tat sound bite wars of a presidential campaign.

4. When we're all talking national security, we're not talking jobs, the economy and health care, and, as both campaigns are learning, the best offense is often to stress Defense — as in the Rumsfeld kind.

And by exploding new campaign ads in the local and national news cycle as Kerry travels, BC04 is sure to get deep into framing the news debate on the day of release.

And, ABC News has observed and learned, the secondary explosions might be cleverly designed to go well BEYOND the day of release.

Various Senate officials tell ABC News that the use of footage from the Senate floor in yesterday's new ad is an apparent violation of the chamber's rules. More on that below.

A Bush adviser concedes that courting controversy by including edgy images (the 9/11 stuff, the French Job, and, now, the Senate floor material) is a great way to ensure days and days of free media coverage to amplify the campaign's message and fight things out on their terms.

The President's admakers didn't sit around for months, spending millions of dollars before a single ad aired, twiddling their collective thumbs. And they don't casually choose the images they use — or fail to consult lawyers and communications experts about them.

Today's two-ring circus takes us from Sen. Kerry at noon on the Right coast to Vice President Dick Cheney on the Left coast at 1:30 pm.

Here are the details:

Sen. John Kerry Speaks On National Security The George Washington University Washington, D.C.

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