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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Good cop, bad cops

By Steve Turnham
CNN

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John Kerry, seen boarding his campaign plane Saturday, will spend the week talking about health care while his campaign talks tough on Iraq.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- John Kerry takes the high road this week with a series of speeches and town hall meetings on rising health care costs, starting today in Pennsylvania. His campaign, meanwhile, is going for the jugular on Iraq.

Saturday, Kerry took a fairly soft line on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, telling a local Pittsburgh station "this is a moment for America to try to deal with this without any partisan politics. This is not about politics. This is about our country. This is about how we're going to be stronger."

But his aides and allies have been tougher.

In an e-mail Sunday, camp Kerry described President Bush as a disengaged, ill-informed leader who deflects blame to underlings.

"The White House strategy to protect the president is focused on shifting all of the blame to [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld," said the statement. "President Bush is happy to land on an aircraft carrier or serve a plastic turkey to the troops during good times but he shies away from accepting responsibility when it's not politically convenient."

On NBC's "Meet the Press" Gen. Wesley Clark also pinned the blame on the president.

"There's more than a systemic failure, there's a failure of leadership that goes right to the top. This is a presidential leadership problem. He is the commander in chief -- he announces it virtually everyday on the campaign trail -- and he himself must take responsibility for this," said Clark.

The Republican National Committee is hoping to nail Kerry for politicizing what, in the candidate's own words, should be beyond "partisan politics."

RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie accused Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill of trying to raise money off the issue.

"The prison images from Baghdad are clearly disgusting," said Gillespie. "But it's harder to find words to describe those whose first instinct upon seeing them is to raise campaign cash with them."

Gillespie is a little off base. The letter Cahill sent out to supporters asked them to sign a petition calling on Rumsfeld to resign, and didn't mention money.

We'll see how far President Bush goes in accusing Democrats of playing scandal politics today at 3:15 p.m. ET when he delivers remarks at the Pentagon.

The first direct evidence of how the prison scandal is affecting public opinion is out today at 3:30 p.m. ET with the release of a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll on the matter. Watch for that on Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics.

Waiting to exhale

To the extent that Rumsfeld's future depends on the support of congressional Republicans, he's not yet in the clear.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner said Rumsfeld told him that the Pentagon will provide Congress with more of those dreadful pictures.

"I was assured yesterday that all the new photos are being reviewed by the lawyers and so forth and will be forthcoming to the Congress," said Warner.

Lawmakers' personal disgust at what they see, and their prediction of how the public will react will likely cause some to re-think their positions on whether Rumsfeld should stay or go.

Warner's committee holds another hearing Tuesday on Abu Ghraib.

Number crunch

More numbers from last week's Gallup Poll help to explain why just 41 percent think the president is doing a good job on the economy, despite weeks of positive reports.

The latest data dump from the May 2-4 survey shows just 29 percent of Americans think the economy is in excellent or good shape; a whopping 70 percent think it's just fair or poor. That's still not as bad as April of 1992, when 88 percent thought the economy was doing badly.

Other findings: a majority of Americans (53 percent) believe economic growth will improve and a plurality (43 percent) believes the stock market will rise. Americans appear to be most pessimistic about job growth; just 36 percent said they think unemployment will fall, with the rest staying the job situation will stay stagnant or deteriorate.


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